The Future of Trucking

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  • Published on:  Tuesday, April 25, 2017
  • Imagining the future of the vast trucking industry that will become autonomous in the coming years.
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    Video by Bryce Plank and Robin West.

    More information on this topic:
    The future of trucking:
    Tesla's electric truck:
    Truckers discuss the future of trucking:

    The semi-truck. Our modern lives are completely dependent on them. Look around you. Every object you see probably traveled on at least one big rig. Here in America, truckers make up 2% of the workforce. But with multiple game-changing technologies converging simultaneously — and the relentlessness of the hyper-competitive global marketplace — the industry will be revolutionized within the next two decades.

    This is an examination of the future of trucking.

    Before we get into the technology that will turn it all upside-down, we must first understand the way this extremely fragmented industry works now. To the numbers! There are about 3 million drivers for 2.5 million trucks in the US. Those trucks are owned by 532,000 carrier companies, but 90% of these fleets have fewer than six trucks—and half of all carriers are single individuals who own and operate their own rig. Then you have the middlemen, the freight brokers. These 13,000 companies play matchmaker between the manufacturers and wholesalers (who are trying to get their goods to market) and the retailers (who make the final sale to the consumer).

    Because this industry is so splintered, there aren’t universal software systems tying it all together. In fact, 67% of shippers don’t use software at all and rely solely on paper records—in 2017!

    This creates tremendous inefficiency. When every piece of information has to be communicated through human interactions, drivers are frequently forced to wait hours to book or pick-up a load. And sometimes they just don’t, an estimated 20% of trucks on the road are empty.

    To solve these problems, investors are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on startups competing to develop the silver bullet, a software layer that can be used by every segment of the industry.

    Another area ripe for modernization is how trucks are powered. Today, medium and heavy duty trucks account for 6% of the greenhouse gas emissions produced in America.

    To their credit, companies like Walmart are looking to transition to fleets powered by cleaner natural gas, the bridge fuel America has embraced to transition to renewables.

    That’s where Tesla comes in. Elon Musk, CEO of the electric car manufacturer, plans to unveil an electric-powered semi-truck in the next six months.

    Battery range will be the biggest obstacle to the widespread adoption of electric trucks as Tesla’s pack will probably only have a 200-300 mile range. The other challenge will be having enough charging stations — and enough power available at each station — to support fleets of Tesla trucks.

    The Nikola One attempts to overcome these limitations. This gorgeous, hydrogen fuel cell truck will have a range up to 1,200 miles. The young company plans to begin leasing their trucks by 2020 for about $6,000 a month — including the cost of fuel — but it will first need to build a network of about 400 charging stations throughout the country.

    Cutting the emissions of semi-trucks is great for the environment, but the real cost-saving opportunity lies in cutting out the drivers.

    It’s been more than a year now since six convoys of semi-autonomous “smart” trucks arrived at the Netherlands port city of Rotterdam after leaving factories from as far away as Sweden and Southern Germany.

    That experiment relied on a system called platooning, a semi-autonomous feature allowing trucks to find each other, link up, and draft to cut down on wind drag, saving energy—just like in NASCAR or the Tour de France.

    And in October, a self-driving truck completed the first commercial shipment by an autonomous vehicle, delivering a load of Budweiser more than 120 miles across Colorado. A human got the truck on the highway and engaged the autonomous system, then climbed out of the driver’s seat. That truck was made by Otto motors, which was recently acquired by Uber.

    And dozens of massive, 240-ton trucks are already being used in Australian mines.

    So that’s the near-future we’ll see in the next 10 years: fleets of driverless trucks. Some will be designed to be autonomous, while others will have the system installed later. Many will be electric, and nearly all will be connected to efficient networks that are not slowed down by frequent human input.
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  • David Golding

    David Golding

     4 days ago

    Can't see electric and driverless HGV's coping with the rigours range of everyday long haul trucking, the nutters that design these thing haven't got a clue about the haulage industry they're just putting people of a job.

  • Blue Eyes

    Blue Eyes

     7 days ago

    Hell no

  • Vabis


     7 days ago

    I dont care about the electric engine being the future, im okay with that but what i dont like is that the focus seems to be to make robots do everything for us in the future. What are we humans going to do?

  • Jay Withers

    Jay Withers

     a months ago

    As a new truck driver I am going to be protesting against a autonomous freight system just like a fighter jet would u be ok driving down the interstate and a container hauling explosive beside you and your family and not knowing if the vehicle is aware of you in it's blind spot I'm all for a clean burning truck but not a driverless truck some stuff needs to have the human element in place or it's not gonna be safe.....👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎

  • CodeDashie


     a months ago

    These comments about self driving trucks "never being able to do what I do!" are helerious. Acting like the same people in charge of the self driving trucks can never figure out the simple tasks that will keep these drivers "in the job". Having these high paying jobs is a waste when everything can be cheaper over wise and let alone the risk that comes with people driving these massive things.

  • Chris Kirkland

    Chris Kirkland

     a months ago

    I see the future period as we will not get there! Civil war is about to break out in America and we will put a stop to this employment murder that you are trying to create!

  • outlaw trucker grey ghost

    outlaw trucker grey ghost

     a months ago

    "The real opportunity lies with cutting out drivers" ...drivers make up 1% of the ENTITRE USA workforce. It will tank the economy to put that many people out of work

  • johnny 2fire

    johnny 2fire

     a months ago

    All I know is they're will have to be security lol cause my new jobs well be to hack and jack these trucks

  • Aussie Drifter

    Aussie Drifter

     a months ago

    With the global population increasing & everything becoming more & more automated & obviously less reliant on human interaction what
    will human kind be needed for ???.
    Will we end up with a society as portrayed in the movies were at the end of your most productiveness say 35 you will be autonomously terminated.
    Something to certainly look forward to, & as said in this video it will be introduced in baby steps over a decade, Thank you for your futuristic
    vision & insight Mr Elon Musk.

  • Astro Mars

    Astro Mars

     a months ago +1

    Andrew Yang2020!

  • John Smith

    John Smith

     a months ago

    Chris Iveson is a liar - there are already autonomous trucks in Florida with no one in the cab

  • Raul Quintanilla Jr

    Raul Quintanilla Jr

     a months ago

    Slopoke 432
    This is a stupid idea it will create massive employment and let the accidents start and I'm sure the freight hijacking is going to go way up all your gonna have is cut the power, there's to many flaws for this to be successful on a large scale

  • Joseph Paul Ritter

    Joseph Paul Ritter

     a months ago

    Sounds good on paper, but not in reality.

  • Zaid Chalabi

    Zaid Chalabi

     2 months ago

    Self driving trucks work in certain areas
    But what about car haulers when you have to load and unload cars. Very complicated

  • Mel Puzon

    Mel Puzon

     2 months ago +1

    This is why I am voting for Andrew Yang in 2020.

  • Francisco


     2 months ago +1

    The goal should be to save resources, not job opportunities



     2 months ago

    🤣🤣🤣 keep dreaming!

  • Faron T

    Faron T

     2 months ago

    A European company designed a huge capacitor that could power these trucks for more than 250 miles But the US government won't allow the companies use them

  • Bryan Max

    Bryan Max

     2 months ago

    This looks like a hot spot for hijackers and hackers for real. Nothing is really safe online. We seen it when banks get hacked

  • Ray Morrow

    Ray Morrow

     2 months ago

    Without a driver: who will back into the dock? Check in with receiver? What if freeway is blocked or closed? What if the last truck stop before the snowed in mountain pass is completely full? Weather conditions? What if battery completely fails while in travel 75 mph on major highway?
    I've been in the industry for 5 years.. there are situations that require moral judgement. This will never succeed as much as their greed wants it to.