What Role Will Autonomous Trucks Play in the Future?

Autonomous vehicles are getting a lot of buzz in the logistics industry lately. Since Uber ran its first test of a self-driving beer truck on a Colorado highway just two years ago, new articles about self-driving cars and trucks are released every day. Autonomous trucks will supposedly transform logistics and make transportation safer by eliminating driver fatigue and error. But how realistic are these expectations? Are autonomous trucks really in our future? Ask the experts, and they will tell you it is only a matter of time. However, do not expect self-driving trucks to start filling the highways anytime soon. Autonomous technology has a lot of hurdles before it goes mainstream — and one of the biggest hurdles is liability.

More Questions than Answers

Why is liability such a factor in the evolution of self-driving technology? Simply put, manufacturers and end users alike have legitimate concerns that malfunctioning (or worse, hacked) equipment could cause product damage, property damage, injury, and death — and neither want to assume that liability, particularly the manufacturer. While the technology itself is moving forward rapidly, market release is not close because there are still too many unanswered questions. For instance:
  • How well will automated trucks navigate through inclement weather conditions (i.e., rain, hail, sleet, snow, wind)? Most publicized testing done today has been in near perfect driving conditions.
  • How will automated trucks be able to predict and anticipate the actions of other drivers?
  • What happens if the technology gets hacked? How secure are the navigational and communications systems against cyberattacks?
  • What happens if a part fails (e.g., a blown tire or dropped axle), causing a crisis condition?
  • And perhaps, most importantly, who will be financially responsible when something goes wrong?
Until these and other questions are answered, liability will remain the largest hurdle before automated vehicles become a reality on our roadways.

Warehouse Automation Will Come First

While still on the horizon for most LTL Carriers, warehouse automation has found its place in the logistics industry before autonomous vehicles. The reason, partially, is reduced liability, but it’s more about the ability to control the technology and apply “fixes” while still operating. As with so many other emerging technologies, the emergence of autonomous trucks is a matter of “when,” not “if.” However, until the concerning issues of safety, adaptability, and liability are addressed, they may still be a decade or more down the road. To learn more about Colonial Cartage, please contact us today.