The Intersection of Urban Freight and Driverless Vehicles – Part 1

The idea of any vehicle navigating the roadways on its own may seem like something out the movies, particularly when thinking about a truck driving itself. But, we have already been “back to the future.”

Tesla, Volvo, and Uber are all now in the self-driving truck business. In October 2016, Uber’s driverless truck – now called Uber ATG – delivered a shipment of Budweiser beer 120 miles down Colorado’s Interstate 25. After navigating the roads from the brewery to the highway, the driver hit the “engage” button and left his seat. It was the first delivery of commercial cargo by a self-driving vehicle.

It was also as good a demonstration as any of the impact of the emerging new mobility, in which transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft deploy both autonomous vehicles and human-driven ones equipped with technology developed for driverless-vehicle technology. It’s being referred to as “mobility as a service,” or MaaS, and it’s not something that will be far into the future. Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has predicted that we’ll see these changes within five to 10 years, and at least 19 companies say they expect to put self-driving vehicles on the road by 2021. The technology behind MaaS has already begun to change the way transportation engineers and traffic managers plan for the most efficient, least expensive and safest ways to move freight across the country.

This couldn’t come at a better time for the freight and logistics industry, which has already reached crisis mode with a shortage of 40,000 to 60,000 truck drivers. The average age of a truck driver is now 55, and the shortage is forcing the industry to look to the new mobility as a means to transport goods. The demand for products delivered by trucks in the United States is expected to increase by 27 percent over the next 10 years while E-commerce continues to grow at a rate of 16 percent year over year. As populations increase and urbanization continues, innovative ways to effectively and efficiently move goods into cities will need to be identified. Technology is going to be vital to urban logistics.

Stay tuned for my next article discussing the safety aspects of driverless vehicles when it comes to trucking and urban freight.

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