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Today, the nationwide shortage of drivers and new regulations regarding work hours are delaying freight shipments. and preventing truckers from arriving to their destinations in a timely manner. Self-driving trucks with autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is one proposed solution that may change the trucking industry as we know it.

While the initial stages of switching to autonomous truck operations have been ongoing for some time, a more definitive timeline for the role of AV technology in the trucking industry was just released; a new report by McKinsey and Company lays out a four-stage plan that highlights the company’s vision for implementing AV technology into trucks.

As AV technology begins taking over certain tasks, autonomous trucks will outdo humans in multiple categories. Fully self-driving trucks, which will be electric-powered, have the potential to “alleviate the labor shortage, improve efficiency, smooth out bumps in the logistical network while saving money and lives, and better protect the environment.” They will also have up to three times the mileage of non-autonomous vehicles.

There are a number of AV technologies being worked on by major car dealerships such as Daimler, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo. While fully autonomous trucks will come further down the road, semi-autonomous vehicles will still have AV technology installed in the meantime. Expected upcoming AV technology includes self-parking features, collision avoidance features for accident reduction, and an AV system that pilots the truck when drivers need to rest or nap. As of now, the goal for releasing fully autonomous, human-free trucks is sometime after 2027.

McKinsey and Company’s report has faced criticism, with some accusing McKinsey of painting an unrealistic picture about the future  implications of AV trucking. With high-end autonomous vehicles predicted to cost upwards of $100,000 each, this type of vehicle will be limited to only the most successful trucking fleets. This would likely cause a drive up of competition as smaller companies scramble to get autonomous vehicles on the road as quickly as possible. Too many trucking companies that are unsuccessful in doing so could cause the consolidation of the trucking industry.

While the creation of autonomous trucks may be successful in eliminating the driver shortage, it also comes with the risk of eliminating thousands of jobs in the industry. Despite this, autonomous trucks are very likely increase safety and efficiency, and if there is a cost-effective way to implement them, there is no reason to believe that they will not be used. As this situation continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how the trucking industry transforms as it accommodates an increasing amount of AV technology.

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