60 Minutes: Self-Driving Trucks Will Soon Be Kings of the Road

Mish

60 Minutes did a feature on driverless trucks on Sunday. Guess what?

Driverless Trucks Reach New Milestone

New Milestone No Driver Tests

Please consider Automated trucking, a technical milestone that could disrupt hundreds of thousands of jobs, hits the road.

Starsky Robotics, a tech startup, may have been driving in the right lane, but they passed the competition with 35,000 pounds of steel thundering down a busy highway with nobody behind the wheel.  

The test was a milestone. Starsky was the first company to put a truck on an open highway without a human on board. 

60 Minutes also spoke with Chuck Price, the chief product officer at TuSimple, a privately held, global autonomous trucking outfit valued at more than a billion dollars with operations in the U.S. and China.

Price expects driverless tests with no human backup in 2021.

Veteran Truckers Go for a Ride

Click on the link for a 13-minute video in which 60 Minutes correspondent Jon Wertheim went on a test run with veteran drivers.

The truckers, Jeff Widdows, his son Tanner, Linda Allen, Eric Richardson, and Maureen Fitzgerald were all astonished to learn how far the technology has come. 

Trucker Linda Allen: I wasn't aware 'til I ran across one on the Florida Turnpike and that just-- it just scares me. I can't imagine. But I didn't know anything about it.

Trucker Eric Richardson: I didn't know that it'd come so far. And I'm thinking, "Wow. It's here."

Tu Simple Chuck Price: Our system can see farther than any other autonomous system in the world. We can see forward over a half mile.

60 Minutes Jon Wertheim: You can drive autonomously at night?

Chuck Price: We can. Day, night. And in the rain. And in the rain at night.

Trucker Maureen Fitzgerald: This truck is scanning mirrors, looking 1,000 meters out. It's processing all the things that my brain could never do and it can react 15 times faster than I could.

Steve Viscelli, sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania,  an expert in freight transportation and automation: I've identified two segments that I think are most at-risk. And that's-- refrigerated and dry van truckload. And those constitute about 200,000 trucking jobs. And then what's called line haul and they're somewhere in the neighborhood of 80,000-90,000 jobs there.

Jon Wertheim: What about inspections? Does anyone from the Arizona DOT come by and-- and check this stuff out?

Chuck Price: The DOT comes by all the time. We talk with them regularly. It's not a formal inspection process yet.

Elaine Chao, secretary of the Department of Transportation declined a 60 Minutes interview but offered a statement: "The Department needs to prepare for the transportation systems of the future by engaging with new technologies to address… safety… without hampering innovation." 

Cost vs Savings

  • The cost cost of a truck is about $250,000. 
  • The saving is an annual salary of $45,000
  • In addition, a driverless truck can go coast-to-coast in 2 days, not 4.

UPS, Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service ship freight with TuSimple trucks.

Assessment

The 60 Minutes' assessment is the same as mine for years.

We may focus on the self-driving car, but autonomous trucking is not an if, it's a when. And the when is coming sooner than you might expect. As we first reported in March, companies have been quietly testing their prototypes on public roads. Right now there's a high-stakes, high-speed race pitting the usual suspects - Google and Tesla and other global tech firms - against small start-ups smelling opportunity. The driverless semi will convulse the trucking sector and the 2 million American drivers who turn a key and maneuver their big rig every day. And the winners of this derby, they may be poised to make untold billions; they'll change the U.S. transportation grid; and they will emerge as the new kings of the road.

Hub-to-Hub On the Way 

Hub-to-hub highway driving is much simpler than in-city driving. 

It's a no-brainer for cost savings and it will undoubtedly reduce the number of accidents. 

Timeline

Drivers will vanish on the interstates within two years of DOT driverless approval. The last mile and in-city driving is another matter as I have stated all along. 

My 2022 timeline is still possible. My optimistic schedule of earlier won't happen.

A year either way doesn't matter. We will soon enough have a surplus of drivers whose skills will no longer be in demand.

Mish

Comments (111)
No. 1-33
jivefive99
jivefive99

Hello, Andrew Yang ... maybe we better start up this "free money for everyone" idea you campaigned on, as with two million "rough" truckers unemployed and ready to bring poverty, hunger and protests to the suburbs, we're gonna need your idea thought out ... pretty fast ...

Augustthegreat
Augustthegreat

The tRumptards will blame China because all those jobs lost must have been shipped to China.

Seb
Seb

You haven’t even touched on how the 3D printing construction Industry is right behind as well. No one is talking about this. Huge homes built for 1/3 to 1/4 the current price. In 24-48 hours. Fences. Garages. Many construction jobs and home prices will take a hit. Tech is truly deflationary. AI and cloud computing is about to upend capitalism. There will be no incentive for capitalist CEO’s to hire new workers. It’s a tsunami of deflation incoming.

Rbm
Rbm

Will be interesting to see how thoses trucks handle different conditions say black ice/ wet ice/ high cross winds. Etc

Sechel
Sechel

Yes there will be driverless trucks. And yes there will be human backup. Old story. Seems 60 minutes got it half right. Don't they know about litigation and p.r. risk?

Anna 7
Anna 7

Can’t wait until computers replace the “computer can’t replace me” crowd, like some of the coders I’ve worked with. The sooner it happens, the sooner these people will suddenly develop a sense of empathy for the people replaced before them.

Mr. Purple
Mr. Purple

Money quote: "It's processing all the things that my brain could never do and it can react 15 times faster than I could."

But hey, let's have fallible humans who kill 40,000 Americans each year drive because superstition.

Herkie
Herkie

When (not IF) one of these monstrosities, which have only one purpose, to make ever MORE MONEY for company owners, wipes out a family in a major pile up one of two things will happen, either computer driven (they are NOT driverless) vehicles will be banned from human roads, or humans will be banned from Wall Street's roads.

It is going to happen sooner than later and if I had to bet I would say that human driven vehicles will be the ones to get banned. You will not be permitted to drive on the roads your tax dollars paid for because by then they will already have plowed trillions of malinvested capital into seeing these things take over, but as sure as the wheels of the bus go round and round computer driven vehicles and human driven vehicles ARE NOT COMPATIBLE and people will die.

Stan88
Stan88

Wait until one of these trucks malfunctions and crashes into a school bus and kills several children. That will be the end of self driving trucks.

Corto
Corto

I just drove a minivan with basic automatic cruise control and basic lane keeping ability. As it drifts out of the center of the lane, it will correct back, and do that three times, until it says get your hands back on the wheel. So even with nothing else, these two systems can keep a car in a lane for 1/2-1 mile without driver intervention.

This automation will happen, and is happening faster than anyone can imagine.

It took about 15 minutes for my messing with the ACC to confirm it worked as advertised, and then I just drove with it on all the time. In stop and go traffic it changed what is normally an aggravating experience to fun.

Look at what Uber did to taxi medallions. And driverless taxis will do to Uber the same.

Stan88
Stan88

Ok, how about this: Driverless truck gets in accident on Route 80. Police officer arrives on scene and asks truck driver to move truck to a safe area - oh wait, there is no driver. Then officer asks for license and registration - but there is no driver to ask. Officer then wants to issue ticket to truck driver - but there is no driver

shamrock
shamrock

It took 2 decades to replace all the typewriters. 2 decades to put an ATM in every branch. But yeah, in 2 years the entire trucking industry will be replaced, no problem. It will be a long and slow process, if it works at all.

Webej
Webej

All the people who think it will be banned after one major incident.
Statistics will prove these rigs have much much better safety records, and outside the popular press, these will inform decision making. Insurance and bonding for human drivers will become a prohibitive competitive factor. Driverless trucks will be driven in trains at night, speed optimized for fuel costs and delivery windows. Patient, attentive, careful, they will prove much better than drivers.

Election machines have all kinds of problems...
Were they banned?

Ken Kam
Ken Kam

You fatally underestimate the probability of bugs in the software. Even the space shuttle. NASA programs, defence projects like the F-35 which have almost unlimited budgets (for practical purposes) still end up with bugs. Simple financial software for banks with $billions at stake still contain bugs. These are examples with few if any lives at stake. Driving on the roads will expose buggy software to far more lives and I guess humans will win. And we have not even started thinking of upgrades to the software, introducing more bugs and potential for malicious software.

Sechel
Sechel

the advantages in driverless will be with pairing and linking trucks in convoys. the aerodynamic efficiencies will be huge resulting in fuel savings but saying again there will have to be at least one driver as a fail safe. i see driverless trucks coming on line before driverless cars.

davebarnes2
davebarnes2

In 2012, I made a prediction that by 2060 it will illegal for humans to drive a vehicle in the USA.
I stand by that prediction.
I really don't give a crap about click-bait articles in the news.
Everyone should be forbidden to write about this in less than 5 year increments.

Maximus_Minimus
Maximus_Minimus

I don't care much about trucking industry, but give me automated translation of spoken language in YouTube movies, so you don't ask afterwards: what the hell was this all about?
I am looking forward to a time when all trucks drive at speed limit...
PS: Before self-driving trucks, let's start with simpler pilotless planes. See how that works out.

Casual_Observer
Casual_Observer

Again the challenge for governments will be how to keep people busy. I think this all ends badly and not like Star Trek.

Mr. Purple
Mr. Purple

Mish is very patient and brave to keep posting about automated vehicles. It seems the stupid will persist until several years after they are standard and ubiquitous.

mrutkaus
mrutkaus

As of June, the Economist didn't think too much about the future of self-driving vehicles:

QTPie
QTPie

I definitely see this happening at some point, at least for long-haul trucking. The potential savings are just too tempting... save on salary and benefits and increase utilization of expensive equipment by at least 50%.

For the couple of miles between the highway off-ramp and and shipment hub they can have a human remotely monitor the truck’s cameras just in case.

GeorgeWP
GeorgeWP

Point to point automated transport seems a given. Although multiple nasty accidents may well hold it back. Deaths by robots will be scarier to the public, despite the current annual toll of 30,000+ US dead with 15% or more involving heavy vehicles.

The other question of course being that maybe heavy vehicles could get dedicated lanes, with automation assisting signaling .. or include guide tracks in the roads.. or if all else fails they could put the trucks on rails.

.. less sarcastically, there are test tracks experimenting with conductive charging of vehicles as they travel. The charging tracks could also work as guideways so the trucks could have back up guidance systems to GPS and 5G.

IA Hawkeye in SoCal
IA Hawkeye in SoCal

The simple answer is risk tolerance. The NHTSA says 102 people die on American roads daily. If the machines lower that to 30 per day, is that a good thing?

Louis Winthorpe III
Louis Winthorpe III

Driverless trucks will finally take over as soon as we build roads to support them. I don't see it fully adopted until we add specific Automated Driving lanes on the highways to support them, with standardized markings that are well maintained and easily computer readable. It will also assuage fears of intermixing human and computer driven vehicles.

It only takes a faded highway line in the wrong spot to lead to disastrous consequences. Recall the automated driving Tesla fatality on highway 101.

njbr
njbr

The big advantage is a steady speed for 24 hours a day on known routes--typically the interstate or large US highways. No need for excess speed, just continuous progress.

wendmink
wendmink

If you see one of these on the road give them way way way more room. Once the system see something new you have no no no idea what it's about to do. STAY CLEAR

mrutkaus
mrutkaus

There might have been a human driven van or two or three accompanying these 'robot' trucks across the country, just in case.

So no drivers probably was three drivers at least to keep going 24 hours a day.

Arnstein
Arnstein

Mike, give it a rest. From the 60 Minutes link you led off with:

Jon Wertheim: Right now we've got safety operators in the cab. How far away are we from runs without drivers?

I've said this before, here it comes again. The state of the art of autonomous vehicles has not changed in years: test drives with one or more human operators at the ready. Your 60 Minutes article goes on to promise true driverless exercises next year. Every article you have posted on this subject has contained similar claims.

My racket is consumer electronics engineering. From my perspective, this lack of progress after several years spells doom. I admit that I am not an expert in autonomous vehicles, but I've seen plenty of blue sky. I have learned to recognize it.

Vigorish
Vigorish

And yet all the relatively safer modes of transportation out there -- aircraft, ships, trains -- which one would think are perfect for driverless, all have some kind of human operator still in the loop, however much computer assisted. But automobiles? No, these must be completely autonomous for some bizarre reason.

Freightguy
Freightguy

starsky robotics out of the business

Freightguy
Freightguy

Emp is a huge threat as well

William Janes
William Janes

Why waste money on high speed rail projects like China? I am sure that there will be innumerable problems on the way to a driverless truck and car infrastructure, but homo sapiens are lousy drivers. The need for truck drivers in urban area will be strong, and I imagine that semi truck cabs will disappear with a driver operating up to four trailers as a truck train from one control cab. Drivers do a lot more than drive. Tremendous productivity boost for U.S. since we have a completed interstate system that only needs additional investments. Less traffic jams in city. Drivers will find other work. Forget train travel, waste of money.

BLUEWIN
BLUEWIN

This all sounds great and wonderful if it survives the coming collapse . . .


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