Are autonomous trucks the answer to frequent driver shortages in the USA?
Quick answer: Not yet. There are enormous strides being taken in the autonomous trucks space and driver shortage is a real problem but we’re at least a decade away from autonomous trucks becoming mainstream. In the meanwhile, hybrid is the way and optimization holds huge potential!
Now that we’ve answered the question, let’s go into the depths of the situation and present a solid proposition.
Driver Shortage- How big is this problem?
According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS), there are 1.75 million heavy truck driver employees, 0sbi.9 million light truck/delivery driver employees and 0.4 million drivers/sales workers. This is roughly 3 million truck drivers in 2017 according to the report here and the projection was for this number to grow to 4.5 million in 2026.
The pandemic of course came in as a major disrupter and in the current times, reports of driver shortage have further intensified. A JOC story reports that 2020 was the first year since the 2008–09 recession when the number of truck drivers dropped year over year. So yes, driver shortage is a problem and a big one at that.
There are several stakeholders trying to address the issue and some of the quick answers come in the form of- increasing wages, giving more time off to drivers to incentivise truck driving as a career or pin hopes on autonomous trucks! But the essence lies in taking the onus of proper planning. MIT FreightLab research shows that drivers spend about only 6.5 hours driving out of an available 11. And this is mainly due to the inefficiency in the systems resulting from wait times during pick up or drop, inability to batch orders, reliance on manual processes and such.
What’s the solution to this problem?
Logistics Technology is taking major leaps and has the potential to solve this problem. Software has been used since decades but with the inset of mobility, mapping and internet, SaaS solutions for logistics automation have come to the fore.
LogiNext Mile is one such solution that has features that can help in automating the entire logistics supply chain:
Delivery Associate Compliance: When it comes to managing drivers and delivery associates, enterprises can leverage technology to bring in up to 20% more efficiency. They can have clear visibility on the optimum number of drivers and what should be their fleet mix (owned and 3PL), automating order scheduling and giving a great experience to the driver via an app.
Demand forecast and order planning: AI and ML algorithms are now capable enough to accurately gauge demand factoring in parameters like peak times, seasonality, weather patterns and such. Forecasting demand helps to place drivers in areas where they’d be required the most and the most optimal order delivery plans are made.
Route optimisation: This is an area of research from decades and technology is basically getting better to understand and solve the Travelling Salesman Problem (TSP) which in very simple terms means finding the optimum route between two points. More the variables, more the complexity. LogiNext Mile’s advanced route planning algorithm gives enterprises the best solution here.
Reducing wait times: When we’re discussing driver shortage, one of the biggest challenges w.r.t to planning is wait times while loading or unloading. Many a times, an error in planning leads to wait times of a few hours and the sole reason for this is poor planning. LogiNext Mile sits underneath all the existing platforms with air tight integrations to give a completely automated supply chain system.
The state of autonomous trucks
We’ve all wanted self-driving cars and flying cars for decades now but the way things are panning out, it seems man may make it to Mars earlier and we may have self-driving trucks before cars! UPS has been quietly delivering cargo using self-driving trucks since a couple of years ago and several other companies including the likes of Daimler have also been experimenting here but it seems that we’re still a decade away from when self-driving trucks become more mainstream.
High growth startups such as TuSimple and Aurora are pushing the envelope to get autonomous trucks on the road and transportation automation platforms like LogiNext act as a layer on top of transportation technologies, 3PLs, and enterprises in the business of moving things at scale to optimise operations.
The US is a front runner when it comes to transportation technology and things are moving rapidly where autonomous trucks will surely make dent in the driver shortage problem but there is still a lot of policy level thinking and implementation that has to happen before we can put driverless vehicles on the road.
Till there is support from autonomous vehicles, the best solution is to make the most of existing infrastructure by better forecasting and using technology to make a more efficient global supply chain.