Who is driving that truck? The answer may be nobody. It’s a strange thought for most people since vehicles have been operated by a driver for as long as they have existed . There seems to be something odd about a driverless vehicle, but unlike wild horses before being trained to pull a buggy, these autonomous vehicles are strongly regulated and programmed for safety before they are allowed onto the road.
The idea of autonomous vehicles is concerning to people in the industry, especially those who are employed as drivers, as these vehicles could potentially pose a threat to their jobs. This fear is currently not warranted though, as most autonomous vehicles in production require human intervention and supervision. It is impossible to replace human intuition with a machine. While there are certainly more autonomous vehicles than there ever have been, there is no doubt that truck drivers are still important and will remain important pieces of the United States economy, despite an increase in vehicle autonomy.
The first self-driving vehicle was produced in 1958 by the General Motors company which was “guided by radio-controlled electromagnetic fields generated with magnetized metal spikes embedded in the roadway” according to TitleMax.com. Self-driving vehicles now work differently and are controlled by a series of sensors, cameras, processors, and programs that detect and interpret real world data while navigating through the obstacles and pathways of the world.
Self-driving vehicles are not a one-size-fits-all innovation. The autonomous capabilities come in a variety of constraints from levels 0-5 with 0 being a non-autonomous vehicle, and 5 being a fully driverless (and without a steering wheel) vehicle for all conditions, according to Synopsys.com. The majority of newer vehicles are actually in the level 1 category of autonomy with lane control and parking assistance. There are currently no level 5 vehicles on the road as of yet. Reports are mixed on the timeframe for these vehicles becoming a reality.
Self-driving vehicles do pose some benefits, especially in the safety and continuous transport sectors, as they do not suffer fatigue or require breaks from service as human drivers do. This continuous service could definitely save time and reduce the potential for accidents and mishaps on the roadway, but this technology is currently imperfect and cannot function on its own. However, with the supervision of an experienced driver, the machine and human effort working together could potentially create a smoother trucking industry.
What About the Drivers?
There are currently level 4 autonomy rated vehicles being tested for service right now, but it is important to note that these vehicles are not entirely driverless. While they can manage speed, navigation, and traffic for the most part, when conditions become more challenging, they still require the help of a human driver. It is not expected that level 5 trucks will become available any time soon, and even when they are, it will likely be required that a human operator be supervising their navigation and speed.
In short, drivers will never be able to be fully replaced and autonomous vehicles don’t pose a real risk to their job security. The demands of the career may change, and it will likely be that your foot may not have to always remain on the pedal or your hand on the steering wheel, but your input and service as an operator will be valued and needed for the foreseeable future. You still have a major role to play in the industry, so it’s not time to hang up your keys just yet!