Back in March the Freight Transport Association (FTA) held a summit entitled ‘Solving the Driver Crisis’. Their primary objectives are to increase the number of drivers by promoting the driving occupation, offer student style loans for vocational training and generally improve driver facilities. In the same month as the FTA summit, the first ‘platoon’ of driverless trucks rolled down the M6. Hm…
So, on the face of it, encouraging people and investment into a role that is about to be superseded by technology seems a little, er…blinkered? Nobody should kid themselves, driverless technology is here, but will its deployment have any impact to the driver shortage? Absolutely not.
Driverless technology is nothing new
Driverless technology, or Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs) is not a new technology. AGVs using wires have been used in warehouses and manufacturing since the 1950’s, and laser guided AGVs have been with us since the 1980’s. Furthermore, auto-pilot technology in ships and planes has, believe it or not, been in constant development for the last 100 years! In fact, road transport seems the very last place to deploy this technology.
Of course, the number of variables in automatically guiding vehicles on public roads is significantly higher than guiding a vehicle within the confines of a warehouse and that’s why road transport is the last to the party.
If you consider the areas of transport that already deploy guidance technology, you will note a common factor: all auto-pilot technology is accompanied by a qualified driver. We still have pilots, we still have ship captains and consequently we should still expect to have truck drivers.
Our team of logistics consultants predict that driverless technology will follow the same evolutionary path of auto-pilot in planes and ships. That is to say, the technology will be deployed as semi-autonomous with a driver very much still behind the wheel. When it’s clear cruising ahead, then the auto-pilot will be used, but when in towns, cities and on B-roads, the driver will take back control.
Of course, this is in evidence already. In the last 10 years we’ve had laser guided cruise control introduced and we believe driverless technology will evolve along this path. So, whilst cruising down the M6 the driver may be able to switch over to semi-autonomous mode and catch up on paperwork, but once off the main trunk routes then the driver will once again take control.
There of course may be an impact to driver numbers if the concept of ‘platoons’ is deployed. ‘Platoons’, which are currently being trialled in the UK, are a fleet of vehicles with the lead vehicle in the control of a single driver, and the rest of the ‘platoon’ laser guided and driverless. However, this trialling is very much in its early stages and of course platoons could only be used for primary trunking.
In summary, we don’t think that there will be thousands of unemployed drivers any time soon; we think the FTA are absolutely correct in their actions to bring younger people into the industry and those people can still expect a long career. In fact, we believe that driverless technology will most likely make the job of driving more attractive, not obsolete. Not yet anyway…