Trucking didn’t start as a tech-savvy industry. For decades, the most advanced thing in a truck was the diesel engine and the computers that helped it run.
Now, though, technology has become an inseparable part of the transportation industry. We’re not just talking about logging systems, or advanced GPS-guided navigation systems. We’re talking about trucks that are semi-autonomous (as some are now) to fully-autonomous vehicles that drive themselves and have humans on board only to act as a backup and a person to unload the vehicle.
Given that there are 63,000 fewer truckers on the road than the industry needs – a shortage exacerbated by a turnover rate that approaches 96% according to one estimate – the advent of technology is a no-brainer. Something has to make up for the gap, and something has to increase productivity from the truckers the industry does have.
How Technology Is and Will Be Essential to Trucking Companies
We’ll start by talking about autonomous trucks.
Self-driving trucks, put simply, would be a boon to trucking companies but potentially a disaster for truckers if technology manages to completely replace them.
Not that autonomous vehicles are there yet; they aren’t. Tesla and Uber have both have incidents where self-driving vehicles caused fatalities. The technology isn’t advanced enough to completely replace human drivers – although self-driving company Waymo recently announced their vehicles have driven over 9 million miles to date.
The benefits to trucking companies are clear. They can cut down on overhead in the form of trucker wages, increase productivity, and get rid of regulations that limit how many hours a trucker can drive in a certain period of time. Since autonomous trucks never need rest, they would be slowed only by having to refuel.
Until the industry gets to that point, though – a point that may still be decades away – more and more truckers will be needed. That’s where virtual reality comes in as a high-tech way to quickly and effectively train new truckers.
VR simulators are advanced enough to create hyper-realistic environments that replicate real-world truck driving conditions. Trucking education programs are just now starting to use VR simulators to do a better job of teaching truckers how to operate a commercial vehicle.
Another benefit: VR allows truckers to learn how to handle problems that are too risky to replicate in the real world, like dealing with a front tire blowout, or learning how to handle losing control on iced-over roads. A driver needs to learn how to avoid an obstacle, but learning how to do so in a real truck is dangerous. VR eliminates that danger.
What Will Be the Next Advance in Trucking Technology?
Our bet is that automation will be the next big thing in trucking, because it’s already on its way and it’s hard to envision another tech development that will have a bigger impact on the trucking industry.
In the meantime, trucking companies will need to use technology to hire and train armies of new drivers to replace the ones leaving or retiring from the profession.
In both ways, technology will continue to play a huge role in a trucking company’s success, as long as trucks are needed to carry the nation’s loads.
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