Economic Impact of Self-driving Trucks

Trucks are the backbone of the supply-chain delivery system. 70% of goods are delivered by truck. The U.S. trucking industry generated $700.3 billion in economic activity in 2017.

Self-driving trucks will revolutionize logistics. It can bring down the cost by about 4 times and can increase the distance driven in a day by 2.5 times.

A self-driving truck would be able to deliver across the USA in 2 days instead of 5 days.

Self-driving trucks will arrive before self-driving taxis because highway driving automation is easier.

Waymo, Tesla, Volvo, Embark, TU Simple, Kodiak Robotics, Starsky and others are all competing to create self-driving trucks.

Embark is already using driver assistance to deliver from truck hub to truck hub. Human drivers drive from cities to the truck hubs and from truck hubs into cities.

There will be a 20-30% improvement in fuel efficiency and reduce wear on the truck.

Embark CEO is pitching that the human truckers will not be fully replaced for decades. The replacement of long-haul truck work will be a pure economic boom. There is currently a shortage of truck drivers. The reduced costs will increase the demand for local driving jobs. In theory, the 80% automation of trucking would provide the economic benefits of faster and vastly cheaper delivery while providing more of the better driving jobs.

Here is a CNBC video on self-driving trucks.

US Truck Statistics

280,000 trailers are sold per year
53.9 billion gallons of fuel are consumed yearly
671 billion in merchandise is shipped yearly
21.4 billion dollars in road usage and taxes are paid every year
432.9 billion miles are driven on U.S. highways, 139.3 by class 8 (tractor-trailers)
15.5 million trucks and 2 million tractor-trailers are on the road
8.9 million trucking employees, including, 3.5 million truck drivers
500,000 trucking companies operate in the U.S.

China Truck Statistics

29 million vehicles produced and sold by China’s automakers in 2017, approximately 25 million were passenger cars and four million were trucks and buses. Trucks made up almost 90% of commercial vehicles last year. In 2017, 1.1 million heavy-duty trucks and 229,113 medium-duty trucks were sold in China.

1.3 million medium and heavy-duty trucks that are now sold every year in China while over 300,000 Class 6, 7 and 8 trucks, and 70,000 Class 5 trucks are sold in the U.S. China’s truck market is more than three times than that of the U.S.

SOURCES- CNBC, Freight Trucking industry, Embark

Written By Brian Wang,

39 thoughts on “Economic Impact of Self-driving Trucks”

  1. Look, there is a lot of money on the line.

    Yes…for the trial lawyers. Again: What imaginary legal system do you think exists? 🙂

  2. I think it’s because most “stupid humans” these days have had at least a few experiences dealing with automatic machines that did ridiculously, frustratingly bad things for little or no reason.

    Usually the result is just hot coffee being dispensed onto the floor. Or an auto-teller not dispensing money but deducting it from the account. Or an automatic door that starts triggering of its own movement. But it’s enough that we do not trust them to be reliable or to respond to the first few attempts to just stop and let the human be in charge.

    So we are suspicious when someone proposes to make such an automatic system with the power of life or death.

  3. I suspect that F111F’s example was just that, an example.
    And we can easily imagine a situation where a road is supposedly a wide, multilane, self driving ready highway but a combination of traffic and idiot decisions by humans turns into a situation where the truck is forced to make such a decision.

    Not to mention the trolley problem which is a real thing and anyone who denies it is fooling themselves.

    Indeed the F111F problem is a blinded trolley problem. Decision A or B.
    Choice A kills an idiot driver who probably deserves it… or maybe he just had a sudden heart attack kick in?
    Choice B might just destroy the robotruck, but crashing off the cliff might land on a campsite with 25 kids in the tents where you can’t see them.

  4. This is a solved problem.
    You have a small background level of random data loss in all cases. Then, when one happens for any particular case there is no evidence that this is anything other than the same random occurrence that you have extensive evidence of in your company bug tracking system.
    You even have a special task force set up to solve this mysterious bug, though that particular taskforce happens to include all the people that… are diversity hires as they are called these days.

  5. Look, there is a lot of money on the line. It will drive legislature to codify the law so there will be clarity on what is expected of the self driving vehicles. Anytime new things come along, the law will evolve to cover the situation. It may change how the trucks are programmed and where they are allowed to go, but won’t stop these trucks from being used if the economics is compelling.

  6. There should be no basic income for people who– refuse to work– and help to grow the economy unless they are senior citizens or permanently disabled, IMO.

    The tax system should favor working people by reducing income tax to just 1% for working individuals who make less than $60,000 a year. And employers should pay– all– of the payroll taxes (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) for employees that make less than $60,000 a year, IMO.

    Employees should also be guaranteed up to six weeks of paid vacation depending on how long they’ve worked for a company (one week of paid vacation for every year you’ve worked for a company up to six weeks maximum of paid vacation).

    Workers should also receive an annual $2000 workers bonus from the Federal government– after they’ve paid their annual income tax.

  7. The primary purpose for the advancement of automation is to reduce the number of hours people have to work.

    A century ago in the US, people use to work 12 hours a day for six days a week. We’re now at a point in our economy where people should really be working only 32 hours a week (4 days a week).

  8. Self driving trucks should also use plug-in-hybrid electric technology using both batteries and methanol fuel cells. It should be a lot easier to provide places for trucks to refuel with renewable methanol by simply locating such fueling stations in origin and destination towns and cities.

    Renewable methanol could be derived from the pyrolysis of garbage and sewage in practically every town and city in the US. Renewable methanol could also be derived from remotely sited floating or underwater ocean nuclear power plants.

  9. We need to get a lot more freight moved by rail. Rail is far more efficient, and we have by far the largest rail network on the planet. The only reason it is not moving the bulk of our freight is that FDR made made the RRB insuring that it is more costly than it should be…artificially erasing the advantages of rail.
    I am not against reduced road freight costs, but I am against large increases in semis especially taking away from rail.
    And if there is an increase in the use of semis to move stuff, it will also negatively impact the longevity of our roads. Over 90% of the damage to our highways is caused by semis.

  10. The excitement occurs when all these guys in their forties, that have been driving rigs since they got out of high school, go to look for other work they can do . . . . and run smack into crowds of forklift operators, bus drivers, taxi drivers, etc.

    Not to mention truck stop waitresses and fry cooks, mechanics, body shop repair folks, car insurance agents, claims adjusters, DMV licensing staff, and so on. There is simply no way this is going to be a smooth transition. There will be lot of pain and a lot of economic disaster in the markets.

    I don’t think we can stop new technology. I don’t think we should want to stop new technology. But an UBI, just giving money to able-bodied young people, with no strings attached, is a recipe for social meltdown.

    Never mind, too, that the extra money needed to fund an UBI won’t pop up the moment the people who most need it get laid off (especially given that the markets are going to be reacting badly to all these unhappy unemployed), nor will the hugely revised tax system be an instant slam-dunk.

    I believe it can call be done, but I have no faith in our government (or any other, for that matter) to get it right in time to prevent a lot of unnecessary pain.

    For one thing, every politician out there will be seeking to use the situation to buy voters, fund pork, or cure all of society’s ills (as they perceive them) rather than just addressing the root problem (i.e. too many permanently unemployed people).

  11. Deleted video evidence can be treated as evidence of a cover-up, which courts may instruct jurors to treat as evidence of guilt.

  12. The SD truck, realizing it can’t see around the mountain curve, drives slow enough that it can stop in time for any stupid-human driver not going so fast they would ram the truck even if it had started to drive off the cliff. One unfortunate side effect of this is that more stupid-human drivers start passing slow-moving self-driving trucks on mountain roads…

    Shippers or the government decides they need trucks to go faster on that route, so they install solar-powered ‘tele-curve-cams’ that extend a truck’s view around the corner and identify on-coming vehicles as self-driving or human, giving them maybe 5-10 extra seconds warning to slow down if there is any human-driven vehicle in sight, and start braking hard if the HD vehicle starts doing anything stupid (or if the TCCam is out).

    So SD trucks will never drive off a cliff to save a human, but sometimes stupid-human drivers will ram into a stopped SD truck or drive off a cliff to avoid that collision. The truck will promptly call for emergency services…

    (I’m assuming radio transponders will eventually become standard on self-driving vehicles so they can share road and traffic information, which will also allow them to assume that any vehicle without one is human-driven and may do something stupid. )

  13. If the intended interpretation is:
    “The aim of the programmers will be to make the trucks behave in a way that will not cause it to be legally liable for the collision. ”
    then I’ll agree with that. That’s exactly what the aim of the software will be.
    Of course software doesn’t always achieve its aims.

  14. Or… the company decides that actually, the SDC was at fault. That’s the other situation in which all the data will be accidentally lost.

  15. No human driver would tolerate such stops unless they are paytime/billable. Then there will be no issue at all 🙂

  16. past article i read said AI (mostly the self driving kind) could reduce the cost of all logistics by half.

  17. You are going to have to automate the rest of the logistics chain. That means most freight is going to be made as modular as possible for multi-modal transport, storage and delivery. In a few years most warehouses are going to empty out and have just robots, a few administrative people, building maintenance and a robot wrangler. I see a lot of old boomer warehousemen retiring and its hard finding replacements. Might as well automate.

  18. All these work saving devices that produce wealth for a few and misery for many. It is
    a 200-years old story. Basic income for everybody!

  19. The self driving truck is expected to behave in a reasonable manner in such unexpected events. No jury is going to expect the truck to go off the cliff, especially you don’t know if anyone is at the bottom of the cliff.

  20. I wonder what psychological mechanism is at play when the “stupid humans” somehow think it’s better to be involved in accidents with other stupid humans compared to a bot vehicle that acts in deterministic and logical ways.

  21. It’ll also make electrification simpler. The class 8 Tesla has to fit human driving habits, so it has a giant battery to cover 6-8 hours of driving, and needs to recharge in 30 minutes.

    A truck designed for automation could have a 2 hour battery, with a 30 minute recharge and still be fast enough. No human would tolerate such frequent stops. The existing Model S hardware and supercharger network is good enough for an automated class 8.

  22. Because human life is worth more than a machine’s?

    That will be the lawyers will be easily convincing the jurors in the multi-million $$$ wrongful death lawsuits to believe. It will be a slam dunk, actually.

  23. Embark CEO is pitching that the human truckers will not be fully replaced for decades. The replacement of long-haul truck work will be a pure economic boom. There is currently a shortage of truck drivers. The reduced costs will increase the demand for local driving jobs. In theory, the 80% automation of trucking would provide the economic benefits of faster and vastly cheaper delivery while providing more of the better driving jobs.

    Of course he spun that drek. Standard boilerplate stuff for automation/robotics firms ever since Momentum Machines’ founder blew it by telling the truth: “our device isn’t meant to make employees more efficient but it’s meant to completely obviate them.” and got a lot of flack for saying said truth.

  24. There will be a huge market for adding self driving to existing trucks. Class 8 truck designs are relatively stable, so the hardware for new trucks will more or less fit old ones. All the North American manufacturers even use the same engine, transmission, and rear axle suppliers, with identical hardware. The number of trucks that can be built per year is limited by the capacity of truck factories, and these components.
    The corporation with the largest build capacity is Freightliner, wholly owned by Daimler. They build class 8 trucks for export, even to left side of the road countries, like Australia, and South Africa.

  25. Who has liability? The truck manufacturer and AI programmer or the company that operates them?

    Companies don’t like assuming liability for things outside their control.

  26. Besides they will have a truckload of evidence from their integrated sensors and cameras.

    Most SDCs accident investigations will have the luxury of very detailed information about what happened. Unless the accident is so bad that no recording of it survives, and that’s rather rare.

  27. The trucks will behave in a way that will not cause it to be legally liable for the collision. In this case, it would not be.

  28. These trucks are programmed by people. If I were the programmer, I would program the truck to brake hard, but not drive it self off the cliff. Why should the self driving truck destroy itself on account of your stupidity. A human driver on that truck would not.

  29. For starters, you don’t allow a robotruck to drive on its own in a 2 lane mountain road.

    Most likely you put then in convoys on mostly straight and wide highways only, under the watchful eye of a couple of human drivers.

  30. Automated OTR will work, right up until a) stupid human drivers; b) fog; c) winds; d) snow; e) ice; f) all together. Will an automated truck sacrifice itself/cargo vs another (let alone human-driven) vehicle?
    Scenario: Stupid human driver decides to pass another vehicle on a corner of a 2-lane mountain road with little/no shoulder. Oncoming robot-driven semi sees a probable collision and attempts to brake, but physics demands a course correction to avoid a collision. Does robot truck go off the mountain? Try to make all three vehicles fit across 2 lanes? Take the offending stupid human driver head on? For me, these and other questions will need be answered before I approve of robots driving alongside me.
    A sometimes stupid human driver.

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