Recent research by companies like Waymo are paving the way for others and their own work, and it won’t be long before self-driving trucks are on the road once and for all.
Waymo Is Officially Testing Self-Driving Trucks
Kayla Matthews | Productivity Bytes
Born out of Google’s parent company Alphabet, Waymo — formerly the Google self-driving car project — is now being touted as a legitimate competitor to the likes of Uber.
The two brands have already been in direct competition within the consumer market, but a recent move by Waymo is hoping to expand their appeal to the sectors of commercial and industrial shipping.
Self-Driving Vehicles Are the Way of the Future
According to recent estimates, self-driving systems will become commonplace by 2020. While the technology was originally focused on consumer automobiles, Waymo has spent the past eight years developing hardware and software that is meant for the nuances of a full-sized truck.
Some IT experts even suggest that trucks are the ideal candidate for modern autonomous systems. With vast savings in fuel and reductions in delivery time, reliable self-driving trucks could have a significant impact on industries like manufacturing.
Current technological limitations aside, the biggest roadblock to self-driving trucks might be the potential for controversy. As autonomous cars have already generated equal amounts of negative and positive press, trucks that can regulate themselves will certainly catch some heat from opponents of technology and those who would rather stick to tradition.
Those who favor self-driving trucks are quick to point out that while the trucking industry will certainly change as a result of the technology, human truckers will still be necessary to ensure intelligent decision-making. An estimated 1.7 million jobs will be affected in some way by self-driving trucks, but many will still be able to maintain employment.
As some are worried technology will replace the current truck-driving workforce, others view it as complementary. Per a recent report by the American Trucking Associations, the entire industry is suffering from a massive worker shortage. If their predictions come true, the trucking industry could be short by nearly 200,000 workers by 2024. Self-driving trucks could help reduce the impact this is expected to have on the industry as a whole.
Paving the Way for Autonomy in Other Industries
Self-driving trucks could also lead to further breakthroughs in autonomous technology.
If Waymo’s project turns out to be successful, it will likely spark increased interest and support for additional research in autonomous tech.
Forklifts and other kinds of warehousing equipment would make excellent choices for autonomous vehicles. Not only could automation further increase fuel efficiency and improve safety around the factory, but they’d lets you allocate workers to other, more important duties on the manufacturing floor.
Industrial lifts, such as scissor lifts, atrium lifts and similar hardware, could also be outfitted with autonomous technology. Again, the primary selling points include greater efficiency and improved safety.
This technology will require a high level of communication between systems. Autonomous trucks will need to figure out the fastest route to their destination, and forklifts will need to know the most efficient means of stocking shelves. The Industrial Internet of Things, also known as IIoT or Industry 4.0, is already making such connectivity possible.
Working with advanced GPS systems, complex computer coding and industrial software, manufacturing plants are already using the IIoT to strengthen supply chains, coordinate operations across remote facilities and perform predictive maintenance on machines before they break down. This, combined with self-driving trucks and other factory equipment, could result in record-setting production numbers.
On the Road to Autonomy
Although self-driving trucks, forklifts and scissor lifts are still a few years away, the fundamental technology behind such systems is already available. Recent research by companies like Waymo are paving the way for others and their own work, and it won’t be long before self-driving trucks are on the road once and for all.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of RoboticsTomorrow
Kayla Mathews - Contributing Author
Matthews is a tech journalist and writer, whose work has appeared on websites such as VentureBeat, The Week, VICE's Motherboard and Inc.com. She is also a senior writer at MakeUseOf and the owner of ProductivityBytes.com.
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