• Automated long-haul trucking will help the trucking businesses to save a substantial amount of money on labor.
  • Researchers are exploring the opportunities of Automated short-haul trucking and its impact on businesses.

With automated truck technology evolving in the US, multiple queries about the deployment of this technology and its potential impact on the long-haul trucking market remain.

A research team at the University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study to assess how and where automation might replace operator hours in long-haul trucking.

They found that about 94% of the operator hours could be impacted if the automated trucking technology enhances to operate in all-weather conditions across the United States of America. At present, automated trucking is being tested in the Sun Belt region.

“Our results suggest that the impact of automation may not happen all at once. If automation is restricted to Sun Belt states (including Florida, Texas, and Arizona) — because the technology may not initially work well in rough weather — about 10% of the operator hours will be affected,” said Parth Vaishnav, study co-author, assistant professor of sustainable systems at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability.

The researchers used data from the 2017 Commodity Flow Survey, released by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau, and U.S. Department of Commerce, to collect data on trucking shipments and the operator hours used to fulfill those shipments.

Additionally, they explored various automated trucking deployment scenarios, such as deployment in southern, deployment in sunny states; in spring and summer season; deployment for more than 500 miles; and deployment across the USA.

“Our study is the first to combine a geospatial analysis based on shipment data with an explicit consideration of the specific capabilities of automation and how those might evolve over time,” said Aniruddh Mohan, co-author, a doctoral candidate in engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon.

The researchers published their research online in the Humanities and Social Sciences Communication on March 15.

The logistics journeys that go beyond 150 miles categorize under long-haul trucking. Multiple companies are trying to develop automation for long-haul trucking that is designed to work as a “transfer hub” model.

The process includes an automated truck accomplishing the highway leg of the route and manual drivers undertaking the most complex suburban-urban parts at both the starting and endpoints of the journey.

Implementing automated technologies will be a perfect solution for trucking businesses to save money because labor charges account for up to two-fifths of the cost of trucking, added Vaishnav. However, implementing automated technologies might become a threat to job loss for the workers.

“Because trucking is viewed as one of the few jobs that give folks with a high school education the chance to make a decent living, there is a concern that automation will eliminate these jobs. Some people worry that all or most of the million or more trucking jobs might be lost,” he added.

“In terms of numbers, our analysis showed that automation could eliminate a few hundred thousand jobs (as opposed to a million or more), but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that for most people, these are fleeting, poorly paid, and unpleasant jobs. We think that it is possible that the number of operator hours lost at truck stops, because automated trucks will have no drivers who need to be served at truck stops, could be compensated by new employment opportunities at transfer hub ports.”

Furthermore, the researchers also evaluated if automated trucking might result in a spike in short-haul driving jobs, which involves trucking shipments within the 150-mile radius. They also determined that operator hours of work lost due to automation of long-haul trucking will not be compensated in terms of quality and quantity by short-haul driving trucks. The study also suggests that short-haul trucking jobs pay less than long-haul trucking jobs, which results in minimized livelihood opportunities for workers.

As a part of their research, the researchers interacted with trucking businesses stakeholders, including tractor-trailer operators, to understand the feasibility of automated truck deployment.

Experts’ view:

“We found that an increase in short-haul operation is unlikely to compensate for the loss in long-haul operator-hours, despite public claims to this effect by the developers of the technology. As a result of these conflicting claims, as well as the uncertainty over the technology itself and its limitations, there is little clarity on how automated trucking will be deployed and its economic and political ramifications, such as the impact on the long-haul trucking labor market. We hope to help resolve these controversies,” Vaishnav said.

“A key finding was just how economically attractive this technology would be and the fact that everyone, including truckers, agreed that the interstate part of the job could be automated. Ultimately, societal and political choices can determine the mode of deployment of automated tracking capabilities, as well as the winners and losers of any shift to automation of long-haul trucking,” Vaishnav added.