Thursday, January 19, 2017

Conversations with Mr S.

He gets home tonight and says to me - I kinda stumbled into a conversation at work. The topic was things that are going away.

I'm immediately interested and say - go on.

This group was talking about how in three years all 18 wheel trucks will be autonomous. He says - that's a lot of jobs. He adds, I think that might be overly optimistic.

I say - I don't know. Those large mining companies in Australia have been using that technology for a few years now with those ground movers. I was in a conference and some guy said they pay those guys that drive them as much as a Silicon Valley engineer and they still can't find people.

We both agreed it's also in a place people don't want to work.

He then says the following. Which I admit sent a little shiver down my spine. So - if those trucks are all bots, then a lot of stuff at truck stops will go away.

My eyes grow wide and I say. Riiight. I guess I hadn't thought about the knock on effect of that yet.


  1. 3 years is way too optimistic. They won't even let one drive without a human yet. Most of the semis are independent operators. It will take them time to invest in automation. The Walmart and Budweisersee of the world will make the jump as soon as they can, but some dude making $60k a year driving his rig is going to have more trouble coming up with the cash. Ten years from now, he might be automated or out of a job, but not three. Finally there are still going to be delivery issues at poit of orgin, so even though semis are likely to be upgraded the smaller box trucks will still need someone to unload the furniture that people buy. As far as the truck stops themselves go, I bet they stick around. People like them and it's easy to keep finding them because it's got money instead of demand driven economics. It probably will hurt the guys running the snack machines though. Personally, I can't wait. So many terrible drivers out there, I'd rather be matching wits against a computer. DF

  2. Yeah, I think bot trucks will really help with traffic congestion. Right now the semi's are over all the lanes. You can barely see in front of you sometimes. Bot trucks would just link up since they will all go the same speed. Hopefully in one lane. Or even their own lane if we are fantasizing.

    I think I mostly agree with you both. Some bot trucks will be here in 3, but it will take a long time to roll over old trucks. Unless the government comes out with a big stick like they did with the trucks at the Port of Oakland and clean reg rules.

    But on the other side - Velodyne (lidar) just announced they were setting up a mega warehouse in San Jose. That makes me think they are ramping up for the industry and maybe things are close than I think.

  3. Mega warehouse should read mega factory.

  4. Imagine an intermodal truck that could switch from the railroad system to roads and back ...

    The major impediment to implementing a national network of autonomous self-driving vehicles at this point consists of a patchwork of laws.

    It would be much easier to update the railroad laws so these vehicles may travel long distances under the control of trains. The shift would be from using TEUs or intermodal containers to self-driving containers, ready to refuel upon arrival at an intermodal terminal. In transit, they would be left with minimal fuel to allow them to be parked under their own power upon arrival.

    US railroad network operators might be encouraged to rebuild long derelict sections of the US railroad system if they could be guaranteed income from containerised truck caravans, such as the Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension in the north of the lower US 48, which extends across several northern states.

    Truck drivers wouldn't be out of a job -- they'd pick up their ready-to-drive vehicles, already parked and topped up with fuel. They would no longer have to deal with "gear jamming" over long distances, and there might be more demand for their short-haul driving which would be less likely to go away as quickly.

    More usefully, the amount of freight that could be transported could increase since the limiting factor would no longer be whether you could get enough long-haul truck drivers. The truck-as-container on the rail system could be in motion nearly 24 hours per day, whereas truck drivers are required by law to take rest breaks of minimum mandated lengths.

    Although drivers would lose the ability to customise their vehicles and to capitalise on them, they would be able to invest in new trucks-as-containers, and the drivers who get out ahead on this development might be able to avoid losses from conversion.

    As far as your beloved truck stops go, truck stops wouldn't go away -- you'd find new ones with better facilities near any intermodal transport facility.

    The designers might even come up with a real "road train" for cars -- imagine a national version of what Amtrak operates to Sanford, Florida, where you can simply roll-on and roll-off, allowing the train to do the driving.

    The legal maximum speed for trains in the US is 79 miles per hour, which compares favourably to the legal maximum speed for vehicles on the roads.

    I very much dislike driving the long distances of Montana and the Dakotas -- having done the trip via Amtrak, if there were a way I could simply drive on to a "road train" with some of the same scenery, I'd be all for that ...

  5. Now that is a fascinating idea. It's such a clever - idea all I can do is smile. That is really thinking outside of the box. Welcome to the blog!

  6. Thanks! :-)

    Also keep in mind that the shift to intermodal containers in the US wasn't immediately obvious, and that initial efforts toward that shift were met with considerable resistance.

    The first moves happened because a ship freight company and a trucking company were controlled by the same man, and because he saw fit to use a union walk-out as the ideal time to implement a change in equipment. The change was expensive and it took several years to recover the investment costs, but eventually it paid back well and became the standard for several industries.

    There will undoubtedly be resistance to something like this idea as well, but think of other bright sides: the truckers will still be truckers, and at the end of the day, they'll be able to go home instead of having to live on the road.

    Although a smart operator might decide to do maintenance to the self-driving containers en route, and that there could be a whole new crop of jobs where people live in semi-constant transit ...

    Imagine some mechanics being able to say that they've changed the oil on an entire fleet of trucks moving at around 79 miles per hour, and that instead of a truck driver living out of the top of the cab, a crew of mechanics lives in a dedicated rail car in a truck caravan. :-)

    That's the real outside-of-the-box thinking: how to create new jobs nobody's thought of yet when the old jobs that everyone knows become obsolete ...

  7. Well, the glue is always money. Right? They'd have to make it cheaper than the current system.