It is difficult to think of a state with more open roads on which to drive a truck than the state of Texas. In fact, Texas has over 300,000 miles of public roads. The runner up, California, only has 169,703 – a distant second. Not only does Texas have thousands more miles of roads, but the law in Texas allows a company to operate autonomous vehicles. Not so in California, yet. For that reason, Kodiak Robotics announced that it opened a Dallas, TX office to oversee a commercial trucking route. What makes this route special is that the trucks will travel 400 miles roundtrip to/from Houston. They will do it autonomously, as reported by Wired.
Fear not citizens of Texas, you will not be passing a truck with no one in the cab fearing it is a ghost truck. Digging deeper, the trip will not be fully autonomous. Instead, a “safety driver” will be at the wheel just in case something happens. Plus, that “safety driver” will do a lot of the driving: on/off highways, into distributions terminals, etc. Mostly, the trucks will be autonomous on interstates and other highways.
Kodiak Robotics is not the only company running autonomous vehicles in Texas. Loadsmart and Starsky Robotics have already completed a journey. They jointly announced they were able to automatically dispatch an autonomous truck to haul freight. They used Loadsmart to prie, tender and book the vehicle. Then they used Starsky’s self-driving technology to pick up and deliver the freight.
So, there is a start. But to what end? Done to scale, this could make truck freight transportation more efficient. Faster, more immediate, with lower labor costs. Of course, as of 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tallied 1,871,700 heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers with a projection for 2026 of a 6% increase to 1,980,100 drivers. Add to that the number of dispatchers and other people involved and suddenly we are talking about technology that will put a couple million people out of work. Eventually.
That last part might be the key part. Eventually. Maybe. One monitored, partially autonomous trip between Dallas and Houston along with one fully automated dispatch and delivery is a long way from trucks without drivers dominating the nation’s highways. This is especially true when the technology has to account for wind, snow, storms, and other weather. Weather that is rarer in TX than in say Illinois, California or North Dakota. The world of autonomous trucking is inching along in Texas, literally. But how far it advances is still a vast unknown in the automotive industry. Will it arrive? Will my personal jetpack ever arrive?