But today, trucks look like a more attractive bet. The American Trucking Association says shippers paid $ 791 billion to move goods by truck in 2019; in contrast, Aurora estimates the annual market for hail vehicles at $ 35 billion. Technical developers believe that if they reduce delivery costs, they can reduce savings. “Clearly, there’s a need for robotaxis in dense cities, but outside dense cities, where everyone has their own car, you have to create demand,” says Asad Hussain, who analyzes mobility companies at PitchBook.
Manufacturers of self-driving trucks say their technology will save shipowners money. Embark says his self-driving technology, which he hopes to sell to fleet operators as a subscription, will save 80 cents per mile, halving the cost compared to man-operated trucks. After all, robots don’t need to be paid for and they don’t need rest breaks. He will not resign, saving the lack of labor at the carrier. And robots don’t have a union. Human drivers could continue to do short-haul truck jobs, the companies say, a more localized job that will allow them to spend more time at home than on the road.
Plus, which is testing self-driving trucks in China and the United States, says its first trucks will help drivers do their jobs more safely and collect data on the go. Finally, around 2024, the company hopes to apply that data when it pulls a man out of a car. The process will “take time,” says founder and CEO David Liu.
The union is skeptical. “Acceptance of technology as a kind of cure for all the problems plaguing the industry is lacking,” says Sam Loesche, senior legislative and political representative of the International Brotherhood of Teams.
Some of the recent investor enthusiasm reflects the emerging importance of logistics amid pandemic-related disturbances, including crowds in ports and the lack of drivers that led to delivery delays. “It’s the Amazon effect, where everyone was comfortably supplied with everything that was delivered at the click of a button,” says Jim Scheinman, managing partner of mave venture Maven Ventures, which has invested in Embark.
The madness of investors follows a series of business partnerships between technology developers and traditional truckers and shippers. Embark works with major shipping companies such as HP and ABInBev, and with carriers such as Werner Enterprises and Knight-Swift Transportation. TuSimple uses pilots with UPS and works on a custom-made vehicle with truck manufacturer Navistar. Aurora works with truck manufacturers at Paccar and Volvo. All of this seems to have convinced people that self-driving trucks are the real thing.
And yet, there is still no real truck without a driver – and it may never be. Self-driving trucks are a tempting safety opportunity – driving a truck is one of the deadliest jobs in the United States, according to the Department of Labor“But an 80,000-pound rocket moving at 70 mph can do a lot of damage.” Because self-driving trucks are so heavy and move faster than cars on city streets, they need to be able to see further down the road – no small technical feat. So far, companies have held limited demonstrations and pilots their technology, but they all had safety drivers in the cab.
Unlike self-driving car companies that have it missed a lot of self-imposed deadlines. “Maybe when the deadlines are extended or dropped, investors will say, ‘Oh, how come it’s not being delivered?’ Why aren’t you on the right track? ‘”Says Bruno Bowden, an engineer who worked for Aurora and is now an angel investor. (It has a stake in Aurora.) Technology is getting smarter – one day investors could.
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