Fall 2022 Supply Chain Scholarship runner up, Maria Emilia Sawaya wrote an interesting essay about how autonomous trucking is the next big thing for the supply chain. Linking to the ongoing trucker shortage, this article highlights a possible solution for the current supply chain disruption.

In talking with our warehouse management system (WMS) customers, they stressed the difficulty in the industry finding new employees with fresh ideas. This inspired us to create the Supply Chain Scholarship to not only to cultivate new ideas but to find talent as well by locating the brightest young minds studying the supply chain.

Here is a future visionary in logistics and the final runner up for the Fall 2022 Supply Chain Scholarship, Maria Emilia Sawaya, and her essay on self-driving trucks.


The goal of transportation is to move products from the warehouse to the end consumer and is a vital element of the supply chain that makes the logistics process run smoothly and efficiently. If asked the question, “what challenges are you currently facing,” transportation professionals would most likely respond with one answer across the board: “truck driver shortages.” In the near future, I believe this problem will be solved by self-driving trucks slowly replacing human truck drivers. The shortage of truck drivers is one of the biggest issues facing the North American trucking industry right now, but it could affect all of us if it continues to worsen. If trucking suddenly stopped, the economy would collapse, making it difficult for all of society to survive.

Trucking can be an extremely taxing job, interfering with one’s health and personal time. Many individuals are leaving the industry, searching for better jobs with better hours, working conditions, and pay. Due to the recent surge in demand for goods, trucking companies are unable to keep up with consumer needs. Right now, the “trucking industry is short by around 80,000 drivers, which is a historic number” (“Truck driver shortage”, 2022, para.1). I believe if businesses want to keep up with customer demand, transportation companies should start utilizing autonomous trucks on a large scale to resolve many pressing issues drivers struggle with. The innovation of self-driven trucks can solve the growing lack of truck drivers. Self-driving trucks have the potential to increase supply chain efficiency, reduce fuel costs, and improve road safety with the reduction of accidents.

The advancement of autonomous trucks is enticing to the trucking industry because it will bring numerous benefits to everyday trucking practices. With this development, there will be fewer breaks and stops, which will give trucks the ability to operate consistently without restrictions for longer hours compared to an individual driver driving by himself, who would require stopping. This implementation could “double their daily range, from 600 to 1,200 miles, which would increase delivery capacity significantly without increasing fleet sizes and help to address the growing demand for faster and more predictable shipping” (“Autonomous Trucks”, 2021, para. 9). Furthermore, this would be fuel-efficient compared to current standards and reduce congestion during the busiest hours of the day. Recent data indicates that “TuSimple’s autonomous technology cuts fuel consumption of heavy-duty trucks by at least 10%.” (“Study finds”, 2019, para.1).

Additionally, it would reduce the number of drivers needed on the road, which would relieve driver stress and drowsiness. Self-driving trucks could drastically reduce the number of crashes and accidents that occur. In the United States, there are approximately “330,000 [accidents] involving large trucks with roughly 4,000 [deaths] a year from auto accidents involving an 18-Wheeler. Accidents are caused by driver error approximately 90% of the time” (“Three Major Benefits” 2019, para. 2). In the future, autonomous trucks would significantly help the issue of driver fatigue, which is one of the top causes of trucking accidents. All these examples will transform how supply chain logistics and transportation operate by revolutionizing driving efficiency, traffic congestion, productivity, and the supply chain pace.

Several companies began competing to implement automated trucking technology in their transportation sector. Self-driving trucks have already completed their first trial runs on the highways. More recently, self-driving trucks reached a breakthrough after a technology company, TuSimple, successfully completed the first driverless run-on public roads with a Class 8 truck in December 2022. Thompson et al. (2022) concluded that TuSimple “completed the world’s first fully autonomous semi-truck run on open public roads without a human in the vehicle and without human intervention” (para. 1). The article later described how the truck “[s]uccessfully navigated surface streets, traffic signals, on-ramps, off-ramps, emergency lane vehicles, and highway lane changes in open traffic while naturally interacting with other motorists” (Thompson et al., 2022, para. 5). While this is only one example, many other companies are doing similar trials in the hope of speeding up the adoption of self-driving trucking within their companies.

Although I believe the idea is inevitable, the implementation of self-driving trucks will not happen straight away. In the beginning, trucks will need an experienced driver within the vehicle to ensure all safety measures are met. Over time, this will change as technology advances. Currently, trial runs are in process; however, it could be several years until there are self-driven trucks on public roads and highways. I believe there are many advantages to autonomous vehicles, but with that comes the possible liabilities that could affect companies. With the advancement of technology, companies will face legal issues around insurance and liability from accidents. Companies need to implement safety tests and trials before the semi-trucks can operate on their own. While there are some concerns that come with self-driving trucks, I believe the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, which is crucial in decision-making for companies. This technology will change how the supply chain and the world operate.

Overall, I believe self-driving trucks are the next big advancement in supply chain because of the positive impact they will create. This has motivated several companies to allocate large amounts of research and development into them. Issues will arise in the process of making the switch to autonomous trucks, but that is to be expected with any major technological advancement. What matters is the positive long-term impact autonomous trucks will have in society. This reasoning is why I believe self-driving trucks inevitably will be the change in supply chain that impacts the world far beyond daily supply chain processes.

References

Deloitte. (2021, October 22). Autonomous Trucks lead the way. Deloitte Insights. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/future-of-mobility/autonomous-trucks-lead-the-way.html 

Published March 21, 2022. (2022, March 21). Truck driver shortage: Everything you need to know. Transport Dive. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.transportdive.com/spons/truck-driver-shortage-everything-you-need-to-know/620417/ 

Study finds autonomous trucks are "at least 10% more fuel efficient than traditional trucks". Auto Futures. (2019, December 19). Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.autofutures.tv/2019/12/19/study-finds-autonomous-trucks-are-at-least-10-more-fuel-efficient-than-traditional-trucks/ 

Thompson, S., Goblel, K., & Schremmer, M. (2022, January 3). Tusimple completes first 100% driverless truck run on public roads. Land Line. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://landline.media/tusimple-completes-first-100-driverless-truck-run-on-public-roads/ 

Three major benefits of autonomous trucking. Redwood Logistics. (2019, September 1). Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.redwoodlogistics.com/three-major-benefits-autonomous-trucking/ 

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