Connect with us


Self-driving cars will take off in commercial industries



volvo autonomous garbage truckVolvo

  • With the
    investment in autonomous technology, it seems
    like we’re close to living in a world where our cars drive us.
  • However, it’s possible that the autonomous vehicle industry
    will begin with commercial vehicles — like tractors, bulldozers,
    and long-distance trucks — instead of sedans.
  • Mining companies already employ autonomous haulers, and
    autonomous trailers could prove incredibly useful in agriculture
    and long-distance trucking. 
  • Such a move would also eliminate some inefficiencies and
    safety risks associated with human operation of those

The news these days has been full of stories about
autonomous vehicles — Honda

 just spent $6
billion to

buy part of GM’s self-driving unit

in an
effort to dominate the automated ride-service industry.

If you just read the headlines no one would blame you for
thinking your next Uber ride will come without a driver.

However, the most imminent and widespread use of autonomous
technology likely won’t begin with SUVs and sedans,  but
with commercial vehicles: We’re more likely to see autonomous
tractor-trailers, bulldozers, and harvesters humming along
highways, digging up mining pits, and threshing through

Mining companies are already deploying autonomous haulers —
which makes sense, given how dangerous the job is for human
drivers. Caterpillar has made an 

mine hauler
without a passenger cab or controls, which also
saves time and money for mine operators.

Autonomous technology may prove even more useful in
agriculture, given that farming is typically plotted
geometrically — all the farmer has to do is program the tractor
to go up and down, row after row, plowing fields, seeding or
harvesting. Such vehicles can even operate through the night and
help extend the growing season.

However, it’s long-distance trucking where autonomous
technology may have the quickest and most visible impact.

Given that these vehicles operate primarily on highways —
where conditions can be controlled and they are unimpeded by
pedestrians, traffic lights and intersections — there is great
potential for self-driving trucks to pick up the slack for human

Human resource savings will be a huge factor in the
adoption of this technology. But there are important safety and
productivity improvements as well. For example, removing
fatigue-prone salaried drivers from the process will save money
and improve productivity by allowing trucks to operate around the
clock, 365 days a year. It could also improve conditions on our
nation’s busy, and sometimes dangerous, highways.

No time off. No breaks. No benefits.

Reducing transportation and operational costs doesn’t come
without societal concerns.

From an economic theory standpoint, products delivered by
autonomous vehicles should be cheaper to consumers because of the
reduction in transportation costs. But if today’s drivers are not
able find similar-paying jobs after self-driving technology takes
over, fewer workers will have the income to purchase these

Indeed, the social ramifications of autonomous vehicles are
perhaps greater with commercial vehicles than those that may come
from personal transportation and even from other new paradigms
such as ridesharing, which has decimated taxi driver income in
many cities. That’s because commercial vehicles directly impact
people’s livelihoods — every driver whose job is replaced by an
autonomous truck or other machinery is one driver who no longer
has an income and is forced to adapt to this new economy.

As a result, labor unions are disturbed and contract
negotiations may delay some implementation of autonomous
technology in commercial vehicles. But if the past is any
indication, drivers will eventually adapt to the disruption and
accept this change in their jobs, hopefully finding new positions
either in transportation or other industries.

Change is coming soon

Such a day may be hard to imagine, given that shippers
currently are

begging for drivers

, and Amazon

is planning

to expand and outsource its
deliveries to thousands of small independent contractors.

But autonomous vehicles are quickly becoming the commercial
transportation solution of tomorrow. With many companies aiming
for a target of 2025 to get their vehicles on the road.

Indeed, look out far enough into the future and you’ll see
the next trend: autonomous drones dropping off packages, serving
as the final leg of an all-autonomous delivery journey from
producer to end consumer.

Yes, a brave new world lies on the horizon. So buckle

Then again, maybe you won’t have to.

Daron Gifford is the
automotive supplier
expert at the accounting firm and
consultancy Plante Moran in Detroit.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.

Continue Reading
Advertisement Find your dream job