Self-Driving Semis 'To Create New Generation of Truck Drivers'by Jana Ritter - Published: 4/27/2016
Autonomous trucks are making headlines again after six teams of self-driving semi trucks recently completed their long-distance convoys across Western Europe. Following last year's U.S. premiere of the 2025 self-driving Freightliner in Nevada, this latest successful European mission is being marked as a major milestone in autonomous vehicle technology - and again raising questions about the future of truck drivers.
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While some speculate trucking technology will ultimately result in computers eliminating jobs as they have in many other fields already, many say that isn’t necessarily going to be case with truck drivers. For one thing, the nation’s truck driver shortage is already forecasted to get worse before better and autonomous trucks are supposedly part of the solution. While its inevitable that self-driving semis will likely reduce the need for truck drivers to some degree, humans are still going to be a necessary part of the equation. As seen with the recent European convoy, the self-driving semis were essentially playing “follow the leader,” matching the speed and overall route led by a human truck driver manning the vehicle up front.
“We don’t want to get rid of drivers,” said Sven Ennerst, Daimler Trucks’ head of development. “We want to make their lives more efficient and more easy.” The fact is that technology hasn’t reached the point of building vehicles capable of handling any situation, road condition or maneuvering without human help. And when self-driving trucks hit the U.S. highways, they’ll certainly still require humans behind the wheel. The realistic scenario is that a human truck driver will still be required to start the truck, drive it onto the highway and then let the computer take over – making long hauls much more pleasant and likely making "truck driving" a different type of job all together.
“In-cab time could be dedicated to higher skill activities, as opposed to just driving,” says Dan Siciliano, a law professor specializing in corporate governance and robotics at Stanford University. “You may see the traditionally blue collar truck driver ultimately having more of a back office white collar profile.” Depending on how trucking companies choose to make the transition to autonomous trucks and monetize their human employees, the future industry will likely demand a new type of driver: someone who can back up a big rig and wield a computer.
In fact, some industry insiders are already preparing for a future generation of truck driver/computer engineer hybrids and Trucking Unlimited is among the first to foster a new breed of college educated truck drivers. The company just announced they are offering its first scholarship to Computer Science undergraduates to help cover a portion of their college expenses and plan to create more educational incentives in the future.