To plan for the future, it’s important to keep up with technological trends and their implications for your industry. The rise of self-driving vehicles presents both an opportunity and challenge for logistics, and electric vehicles are beginning to become a viable alternative to trucks that run on fossil fuels and are closely related to the rise of automation. These technologies are often hyped as imminent replacements to existing way of doing things, but are they really the future?
The Rise of Electric and Self-Driving Are Closely Linked
It’s valuable to take a quick look at how these technologies are interrelated. The transformation that comes with self-driving vehicles also allows for the paradigm shift to electric. With companies like Tesla driving innovation in automated vehicles, and many hybrids and electric vehicles used in tests, it’s likely these technologies will end up interlinked. Self-driving vehicles work better as electric vehicles because they are easier for the computers to drive. Economics also come into play. Electric cars are ultimately cheaper to drive a large number of miles than ones that run on fossil fuels. Due to how automation is developing, self-driving vehicles will inevitably lead to more electric vehicles.
As these technologies advance hand-in-hand they have the potential to destabilize the status quo. Businesses that invest in both electric and autonomous vehicles have the potential to gain a competitive advantage, but it can be difficult to know when to make the transition. Some early adopters are likely to fail, while those who wait too long to embrace new paradigms get left behind.
Automation can result in a reduction of labor costs, the ability to run vehicles almost continually, and full integration of trucking operations into digital supply chain management. It has the potential to radically reduce costs while increasing efficiency, transparency, and the speed of land-based transport.
Challenges to Implementation
At the same, there are many roadblocks to the development and widespread adoption of these technologies. The electric charging infrastructure is currently not robust enough to support electric vehicles traveling long distances. This may be solved through the building out of this infrastructure as well as the use of large battery arrays, but these solutions depend on several variables. No one doubts that self-driving trucks will be on roads by the early part of the 2020s, but the market share of these vehicles are largely dependent on overcoming these technical obstacles.
New technology potentially leads to socioeconomic disruptions. In the last few years, there has been a good deal of discussion about how automated technology and robotics could displace workers. This is true for interstate carriers as well.
Trucking unions are pushing back against the push toward automation, rallying their resources and warning that self-driving trucks could lead to possible safety risks. How this plays out in the push and pull of legislation could affect the timeline for adoption of self-driving electric trucks? And while electric trucks may develop independently of automation, it’s more likely that automation is, outside of a government mandate, the key factor in their widespread adoption.
The immediate economic benefits of electric are more notable when added to self-driving trucks. Therefore, when looking toward the viability of electric across the U.S., it’s important to focus first on the path and speed of autonomous driving technologies.
Safety is a paramount concern when it comes to self-driving vehicles. Solving the problem of anomalous driving conditions like extreme weather, debris in the road, or faded lane markings will be important to expanding the use of this technology. Despite fears that truck drivers will all lose their jobs, it’s much more likely that “operators” will still be needed in these vehicles to ensure consistency and protect against extreme circumstances like a tire blowing out.
This, however, prevents a cost challenge. With the large upfront costs of procuring these new vehicles, industry costs to upgrade infrastructure, and the need for the continued use of drivers, this new framework could be a financial challenge for many interstate carriers.
This brings back the question of both the speed of technological change and the regulatory and legislative approach. If self-driving technology advances to the point of human-less operation, it could improve the cost calculation. Additionally, subsidies for automation or electric, or regulation that advances these technologies could also have an effect.
Logistics professionals should carefully follow these developments while also assessing their own operations and determine what advantages these technologies could bring. Interstate carriers face a lot of change in their roles and in the environment in which they operate.
For businesses with significant operations in California, the adoption of electric vehicles is both a future requirement at some ports and supported by the state’s growing electric vehicle infrastructure. Some businesses may find that these technologies can be leveraged for greater efficiency and expanded growth opportunities. Others may find it to be more of a challenge to be mitigated, especially the potential labor conflicts.
In either case, it’s important to get ahead of the game. Being reactive to changes leaves the possibility of being left behind on one of the most important developments in interstate trucking since post-MCA deregulation.
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