Technology is making trucking cool again

I’m not a complete idiot. I know it’s unwise to shake a tree while standing underneath a hornet’s nest. Still, I’m going to go out on a limb and contend that emerging technologies which relieve drivers of the more mundane or challenging parts of their jobs are good for the industry.

Please, read and discuss…

I just returned from a couple of weeks spent in Germany, where I had the opportunity to see some incredible new technologies that have the potential to drastically and permanently change the industry and the profession of ‘truck driver.’

First, Daimler showcased its first autonomously-driven trucks, which can relieve the driver from his duties as much as 50% of the time at speeds of up to 85 km/h and drive the truck without human intervention. The driver can rotate his seat 45 degrees, put his feet up, work on his computer, Skype his family, book his next load – you name it.

Daimler says its Highway Pilot system – which could be commercially available by 2025 if the government provides the legislative framework to allow it – will convert drivers from truckers to traffic managers, relieving them of the more mundane aspects of driving the truck and allowing them to multitask and manage their business while travelling down the highway.

However, they also hastened to add that a driver will always be necessary, to monitor the system and to take control when performing certain maneuvers such as overtaking. Not unlike an airline pilot, who is always present even though a commercial airliner spends much of its journey on autopilot.

Next up, ZF demonstrated a number of new technologies, including an Innovation Truck that can be driven at low speeds from outside the vehicle using a tablet and specially-designed app. Acknowledging that it will be some time before autonomously-driven trucks are allowed on public highways, ZF created a system that could be used today in truck yards and other private settings. It made backing a 25.25-metre double-trailer combination through a set of cones seem easy. So easy, in fact, I’m certain my four-year-old daughter could’ve guided that truck into position using her fingertip and the tablet.

And that brings me to my point. While these new technologies will initially be greeted with some cynicism, not to mention a healthy dose of fear over job security, I see it differently. I think these systems have the potential to make the profession much more attractive to future generations.

Kids today are born with iPads in their hands and how cool will it be to them to be able to back their rig up to the loading dock using a tablet? How great will it be for them to get a job where they can put the truck on autopilot (or Highway Pilot, if you will) and Skype with their buddies or make restaurant reservations?

Let’s be honest, the trucking industry has had decades to sort out its people problems and it has done a horrible job making this industry attractive to the next generation of drivers. Now, technology may be coming that can save it from itself and make trucking cool once more.


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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • James,

    With all due respect, I can tell that you’re a writer and not a driver. You see, what makes trucking “cool” is the ability to control and “feel” the mechanical workings of truck. It’s a difficult feeling to put into words, but the best analogy I can find is that it’s the difference between playing guitar and playing Rockband: the one is infinitely for satisfying than the other.

    Turning trucking into a computer game will only appeal to those who are interested in computer games. It will drive away people who are actually passionate about driving a truck.

    P.S. When these new drivers have to take control of the system during emergencies and situations, will they have the skills to do so?

  • Hi Andrew, thanks for the note. You raise some valid points. You’re right, I’m a writer, not a professional driver, but I also have a CDL and I enjoy certain aspects of driving a truck (the power, the sound, the view) as much as you do.
    What I don’t have is any affinity for shifting gears. Or backing. It’s not that I can’t do it. I learned on an 18-speed and when I earned my licence in Alberta a 90-degree blindside backup was required. But these were not aspects of driving that I particularly enjoyed.
    In some ways I’m representative of the next-gen driver the industry needs, though at 37 I’m not so young anymore. I never owned a standard transmission car. Shifting, to me, is a chore. So is backing. And I have no interest in waiting around for hours to be loaded/unloaded.
    But I’m a safe, attentive, capable driver. My point is, technology can eliminate the aspects of the profession that are less appealing to newcomers to the industry. And since the old-school ‘guitar players’ are becoming more difficult to find, the industry needs the ability to attract writers, retail workers, bankers – you name it – and to turn them into safe and productive professional drivers. (If I can play Stairway to Heaven on guitar, does it really matter if I learned the old-fashioned way or by using Guitar Hero)?
    Using technology to eliminate or simplify the more difficult and mundane aspects of driving the truck can help attract people to the industry who make good drivers even if they lack some of the skills (shifting/backing) that were traditionally associated with the job.

  • Hello Andrew and James!
    Here is Frank from Germany. I’m driving a so called daimler mp4 now for several weeks. It’s brand new, a car- transporter. It has everything: track-assistent, (warning if you run over side lines unintentionally), distance-assistent, (holds the adjusted distance automaticly) attention-assistent (recognises when one is somehow tired) all things that i first switch off bevore starting. Because i think when i must be awake anyway while driving i can be the same do all these stuff on my own. If in asleep the systems won’t save my live, because the ones who i’m bothered with are romanians, bulgarians and lithuanians and and they don’t know nothing about anything. The rig has a gear shift that makes it almost impossible to shift manual, which i prefer for some reasons. The previous model didn’t even have a seat where you could halfway reasonable sit on. The pay is not even 10euro an hour and when i recently asked for a little more i earned a head-shaking strange smile, no, in the moment not. This moment will never come as long as eastern european drivers work for the half of our wages!

  • There has been a misnomer in the expression “Professional Driver” of late that includes being granted the license, certificate and even training to drive big rigs as the defined source or gauge of distinction.
    With the dubious accreditation sources to achieve such a status, the expression gets thrown around much to liberally to be accurate.
    The definition weighs heavy on the tempered attitude and behaviours surrounding the training & driving environment. Training and a license does not make one a “Professional” and their are many bad attitudes behind the wheel of a truck as any other mode of conveyance. I mean to include all drivers who exhibit a “Professional” attitude behind the wheel in the same league. Many motorists out here drive in a Profesional manner without the distinction. In my book, when they absolve themselves of their own hierarchy on the road over others by something more than the paper it’s printed on, they have achieved “PROFESSIONALISM.”
    I would also like to add that while Mr. Menzies is much further integrated to so many aspects of the trucking industry for so long, much deeper than you or I could ever fathom, it might not be a stretch to assume that his training has far exceeded our own.
    I don’t see anyone else out here showing how great it is to be a trucker after & during such a technological renaissance.
    I relish the day when I can sit behind the wheel and pursue other interests.

  • I am a Canadian CDL holder. I believe that fleet owners see this as yet another way to drive down wages in a commodities based business. If running this truck eliminates the majority of the driver’s wage due to the reduction of workload the Millions of dollars in training spent by cdl holders will never be worth the initial investment but isn’t that what they want in order to cry wolf about a driver shortage in order to manipulate the ears of politicians? Yes this technology could potentially be used to secure a union busting position if allowed to run fully autonomous.

    That said if this equipment could be used to preload shipping containers onto chassis and park them in a lot for drivers to hook up to them this would speed up traffic in and out of the port. Port wait times are the largest inefficiency in local drayage.

    However also on the off chance that wages are driven up and not down then this will afford the driver an opportunity to rest or exercise or cook a heslthy meal in the cab or sleeper to relieve pressure on the body due to chronic sitting and avoid the long term health impacts trucking is known for.

  • Hi James- a CDL means very little as far as being a “Professional” driver! It is like a writer with minimal experience! I have been employed in all phases of the Transportation Industry for “50 + years. I feel you are misinformed as many writers at “Truck News appear to be! The Trucking Industry needs a large monetary gain and Driver shortage will cease to be a challenge in 2014! Thanks- — John Wihksen,Vancouver

  • Hi James,
    The article on making trucking cool again was interesting.
    I would not call driving down the road mundane, that would be the best,most enjoyable part. The waiting in parking lots for your appointment to get unloaded is the mundane part, the unpleasant receiver you have to deal with only makes it worse. I have a hard time finding something cool in trucking when everyone is out to get you, the police, the MTO, shipper and receivers not to mention the car driver that can’t stand you being in their way.
    Don’t get me wrong, the transport industry has paid my mortgage and made my car payments. The technology coming is great, but the only way to make a decent income driving is to put in the long hours hard hours away from home in, in all types of weather, the cool technology will come in handy when you get to your delivery and you have to make 67 pallets from the 18 you brought in and then because you are out of hour and not allowed to take your 10 off in their parking lot, the truck can drive you to a rest area. That would be cool.

    Keep up the good work.

  • In every company these days, technology had been implemented. It’s because it gives a fast and progressive business. With its use, it gives people a fast and reliable job. Like when they implement it on Trucking business. An automated truck is the best for any long and miles of travel.