Every time a truck builder talks about its automated technology, people start speculating how long it will be before truck drivers start losing their jobs. What is interesting is that people do not know history much beyond their own lifetimes. They fail to see that previous technological advances that resulted in the elimination of some jobs also created new jobs in their place.

It is with that in mind that this post poses the question: what would it take to fully automate trucking? The question is an important one if you assume that automation will cost a lot of people their jobs. If all of those trucking jobs are truly in jeopardy, then it must follow that trucking will be fully automated at some point.

Loading the Vehicle

Let us imagine for just one second that a truck can back itself up to a loading dock. Great. Now the truck has to be loaded. It is already possible to fully load a dry van using robots. That’s no big deal. But robots cannot load a flatbed, especially one carrying oversized or odd shaped cargo.

For starters, flatbed trailers are rarely loaded from shipping docks. They are generally loaded from the ground using forklifts and other heavy equipment. The nature of flatbed cargo is such that every load is unique. Thus, robots are completely out of the equation. Human beings have to load those trailers.

Securing the Cargo

Next up is the task of securing cargo. In a dry van, cargo control is accomplished with a combination of load bars, blocks, straps, and bungee cords. These are all deployed by human beings. It is possible that robots could take on some of these responsibilities for standard loads, but there are always nonstandard loads that require more than robots can do.

Moving back to the flatbed presents additional issues. Just as every flatbed load is different, the methods used to secure those loads change from one to the next. Tying down cargo has to account for its shape, size, weight, and position on the trailer. Robots are just not capable of making the decisions.

There is also the issue of maintaining cargo control in transit. Mytee Products, an Ohio cargo control supplier, explains that federal rules require truck drivers to check their cargo at various intervals. It is ultimately the driver’s responsibility to make any and all adjustments necessary to keep cargo under control. Take out the driver of the truck and who is going to perform this vital function?

Unloading on the Other End

Of course, cargo that eventually reaches its destination will have to be unloaded. All of the challenges involved in loading and securing cargo must now be addressed in reverse. Needless to say that there are plenty of tasks here for which robots are impractical. Some of them cannot be performed by robots.

In between the loading and unloading is the task of driving. For trucking to be fully automated, trucks have to be capable of driving themselves under all conditions. That is proving more difficult than engineers had originally believed. While it is possible to run a self-driving truck on an interstate under ideal conditions, autonomous vehicles still cannot handle themselves in bad weather. They certainly cannot drive themselves in snow and ice.

There is a lot more to trucking than putting a truck in gear and letting it roll down the interstate. Despite what the media attempts to portray, the trucking industry is nowhere near ready to be fully automated. Driverless trucks are still decades away. As for full automation, it will probably never happen.