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The Future of Shipping: How Driverless Trucking Could Fuel Careers in Tech

By DeVry University

November 7, 2019
5 min read

Driverless semi-trucks are closer to changing the shipping industry than you might think. Early in 2019, a Reddit user spotted an Embark truck hauling an Amazon shipment on a U.S. interstate highway. Embark is an autonomous truck company – meaning that while a driver is onboard, their trucks are modified to do the driving themselves. They are one of the many companies striving to perfect autonomous trucks alongside companies like Tesla and Waymo. 

The world’s most valuable company, Amazon, is a big believer in the potential of driverless trucks. “We are always innovating and working with innovative companies to improve the customer experience and safety of our team,” an Amazon spokesperson told CNBC. “We think successful over-the-road autonomy will create safer roadways and a better work environment for drivers on long-haul runs.”  

So what will the rise of self-driving trucks mean to the trucking industry and other stakeholders?

Truck Drivers Become IT Specialists

The long-haul trucking industry is facing a major driver shortage. Trucking companies need at least 60,000 drivers, and the American Trucking Association estimates this number could hit 100,000 in several years. Truckers are retiring, but due to low pay, low job popularity among younger workers, and an increase in freight demand, there aren’t enough new recruits taking the wheel.

It would seem driverless trucks could be the answer to the driver shortage. However, someone will still need to be behind the wheel, if only for insurance purposes. For drivers, the introduction of autonomous technology is guaranteed to change the nature of the job. 

Drivers won’t actually be driving; they’ll be overseers who ensure the system runs smoothly. The job will resemble that of an IT specialist who maintains operability and security. This could result in a pay raise for drivers whose jobs will be increasingly more technical. Autonomous truck operators will work closely with information systems managers who will ensure the data is communicated accurately within the fleet, potentially opening up new technology career opportunities in this industry.

Automation Increases Supply Chain Efficiencies

On a macro scale, expect supply chain managers to incorporate driverless truck data into automated systems. Logistics coordinators will be tasked with making overhead decisions through advanced analyses of the supply chain. 

For example, less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping allows companies to ship small amounts of goods or parcels for a lower price than it costs to ship an entire truckload. Because driverless trucks put less strain on drivers and use the most efficient routes, supply chain managers will be able to increase the number of LTL shipments. 

Managers can instruct automated systems to place LTL orders when a retailer starts to run low on a product. Driverless trucks can be spokes in the wheel, picking up LTL shipments without any need for human action beyond oversight. In turn, as product cost, labor cost, and sales figures roll in, managers can use analytics to determine whether the increase in LTL shipments is efficient.

Big Data Will Lead the Way

The transportation industry is already among the industries leading the way in IoT integration. The trucking industry is using sensors to relay information about the environment and traffic to the cloud where fleet managers are using it to make decisions. There’s even more room for big data in trucking: real-time data on road conditions, traffic speed and congestion, accidents, construction projects and parking can help maximize efficiency. 

Driverless trucks are basically big data on wheels. These trucks can transmit constant streams of data to trucking company servers and cloud storage. Then, analytics management professionals can help companies apply analytics tools to sort out irrelevant data and employ relevant data to inform business intelligence. Through this approach, trucks will know exactly when to leave the warehouse, which route to take, and which stops to make. 

Traditional truck drivers are only allowed to go a certain number of miles or hours per day, but a self-driving truck could potentially drive all through the night on a clear route while the operator sleeps and checks in occasionally. This will maximize efficiency for each shipment and help minimize idling, which is a big drain when it comes to fuel consumption and driver time.

Diagnostic Data Could Increase Tech Jobs Across Multiple Industries

Since driverless trucks could potentially drive all day and all night, they could break down more often due to more use. However, sensors are able to track the condition of the engine, tires, and brakes, as well as fuel usage. Autonomous trucks can essentially use mechanical data to decide for themselves when the optimal time to visit the mechanic is, and where the right place to get the part or service is. These trucks could even send updates to mechanics to schedule maintenance.

This could mean more technical jobs for mechanics and business for shops specializing in driverless truck maintenance. Such shops must be able to perform the type of diagnostics you would normally see in the IT world, and it will be an added bonus if they’re able to spot cybersecurity vulnerabilities and debug onboard computers.

Driverless trucks are not only changing the future of shipping, they’re impacting the future of technology careers as well. From IT-focused operators in the cabin to specialized mechanics, these vehicles could likely create more jobs than they take away and potentially contribute to a more bustling economy. This could further emphasize the growing need for technologically-based degrees and skill sets, and allow for a variety of career opportunities that extend beyond those currently available.

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