How close are we to a future in which truck drivers are no longer necessary? We're still quite a ways away, according to Embark technology company.
(Embark autonomous trucks)
Last year, Embark began working with appliance provider Electrolux to transport Frigidaire refrigerators as part of a partnership with Ryder trucks. The 650-mile route starts in El Paso, Texas, and runs along Interstate 10 into Los Angeles. By the end of this year, Embark will be operating 40 trucks along the route, Rodrigues said.
Embark works by exchanging trailers between local drivers and automated trucks at freight hubs situated along highways. The human driver navigates the manually driven Embarktruck into and through the destination and departure cities. But for the bulk of the trip — the highway — technology in the truck is doing the driving.
“Truck drivers are freaking out because they think their jobs will be taken away, and that’s not the case,” said Antti Lindstrom, an analyst with IHS Markit. “You still need the human input, though the character of the job will change.”
Lindstrom likened the Embark test system to aircraft, where the plane itself does the flying for most of a trip but pilots take over for landing and taxiing.
“What makes a driverless testing system safe,” Rodrigues said, “is an attentive driver. Engineering is the minority of what we do in terms of safety. It’s required, but not sufficient to be safe.”
Fans of science fiction great Philip K. Dick may recall his prediction of autonomous trucks in his 1955 short story Autofac:
The truck was massive, rumbling under its tightly packed load. In many ways, it resembled conventional human-operated transportation vehicles, but with one exception -- there was no driver's cabin. The horizontal surface was a loading stage, and the part that would normally be the headlights and radiator grill was a fibrous spongelike mass of receptors, the limited sensory apparatus of this mobile utility extension.
(Read more and see illustration of Philip K. Dick's autonomous truck)