If you think Artificial Intelligence (AI) in vehicles is only for Tesla drivers, you may be shocked to know that autonomous trucks are already making deliveries nationwide.
Autonomous truck makers are experimenting with different approaches to making self-driving trucks a normal part of daily life. Currently, they are deploying the technology to test and perfect limited-use cases to prepare for more complex driving challenges and broader commercialization.
Limited-use cases provide a good testing ground for self-driving trucks because they don’t encompass all the complexity a human driver would normally need to deal with. The most common example to date is hub-to-hub routing, where a heavy-duty tractor autonomously hauls goods between specific locations on long stretches of freeway that are well-defined. Other approaches include using short-haul box trucks and designing vehicles to work in restricted areas like mines and logistics yards.
In the short haul space, the autonomous trucking company Gatik has been an innovator. The company uses short-haul box trucks to move goods between warehouses, fulfillment centers, and drop-off locations.
Gatik’s model is based on fixed, repeatable routes.
“We need exponentially less data to safely and quickly reach fully driverless — the holy grail of autonomy,” he said during an interview earlier this year at CES 2023 in Las Vegas, where Gatik showcased an Isuzu box truck fitted with its self-driving system.
While Gatik’s initial deployments begin with a safety driver behind the wheel, the company already has pulled the driver from self-driving box trucks that are actively transporting cargo for Walmart in Arkansas and Canadian retailer Loblaw Cos. in Ontario. *
Unlike a Tesla, these trucks do not rely on also using a driver behind the wheel; in fact, no one sits behind the wheel. They have a “safety passenger” inside who is not there for regulatory or technical reasons, nor are they responsible for assuming control at any point. Gatik plans to eventually remove the safety passenger from the vehicle in the foreseeable future.
Instead of selling directly to fleet operators, Gatik plans to sell the service. This could prove an interesting business model since it might eventually mean that Gatik or a company like it would be able to contract directly with any type of customer at any time for almost any amount of transportation without worrying about unions, or rest periods, etc.
Right now, Gatik is commercially operating approximately 40 self-driving vehicles but anticipates operating hundreds by the end of 2023
Hyper Constrained Use
A company that has moved away from the long-haul space is Pronto. Pronto initially commercialized a highly automated driver-assist system for on-highway trucks. It has since moved to develop autonomous vehicles for the mining industry.
The mining industry has had some form of automated trucks for several years at the largest mines, but Pronto is targeting smaller mining operations. Pronto says they deliver “…off-road autonomous haulage systems (AHS) specifically engineered for a variety of rugged environments. Complex industrial sites like mines and quarries rely on Pronto’s AHS to improve productivity and safety and lower costs.”
Pronto hopes to integrate the best of what it has learned from long-haul technology with what it has developed for off-road uses to eventually expand back into long-haul and other applications.
So, How Quickly Will AI Replace Truckers?
It’s already happening…