MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – The technology for modern-day society to look like an episode of The Jetsons is here, but the infrastructure to support that kind of life, isn’t.
That was the consensus of the future of trucking panel at this year’s Surface Transportation Summit, who focused on technology at the October 11 event.
The panel consisted of industry experts and veterans who all got a chance to weigh in on the industry’s latest technology push and what is in store for trucking’s future.
First and foremost, Paul Kudla, regional v.p. of Volvo Trucks North America addressed the reason why technology was so important to trucking. In his opinion, he believes technology gives value to the industry, as it makes drivers safer and attracts the younger generations into the driving profession.
“I believe we’ve made it easier for drivers to drive safely…we’re trying to put every technology into the trucks now that helps the driver do a better job and stay safe on the road,” he said. “Because without an automated transmission, by the end of the day (driving with a clutch) you’re worn out…. Plus, young folks love technology, so the more we can add in to the trucks…it’ll make it more attractive for them to drive.”
According to Justin Bailie, president and co-founder of Rose Rocket, if you think of your trucking company as just a trucking company, you’re not only wrong, but you’re doing a disservice to your customers and your business.
“Every company is a tech company,” he said. “Because you can’t sell, you can’t market, you can’t transport products or services without technology. We all use technology as consumers and suppliers, so the risk of not thinking that way and not embracing that, is being irrelevant to your customers.”
Marco Beghetto, v.p. of communications and new media for the Ontario Trucking Association and the Canadian Trucking Alliance, said though all this new technology in trucking has people excited, the industry is generally slower at adopting technology than others.
“I think this industry it’s slow to come by new technology,” he said. “For example, ELDs, which have been around forever…we’re three months from compliance in the U.S. And if you believe certain polls 50-60% are not compliant yet, despite four years of warning. A lot of this automation is slow to come by.”
Beghetto said the industry would do better at adopting new technology if the provincial and federal government worked on giving incentive to early adopters.
For Rick Geller of Marsh Risk Consulting, however, timing is everything when you talk about adopting new technology.
“Timing is critical and its important to understand how to leverage technology so it compliments your business model,” he said. “Act too soon, you end up exhausting resources…wait too long and you miss the revolution. There’s a number of video rental companies that missed streaming. So it really is about timing.”
By far, the most exciting and “sexy” technology topic in the world of trucking today is self-driving vehicles. And though the industry has proven the ability for a truck to roll down the highway without human intervention is possible, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen in the near future, panelists agreed.
“The technology is there today to run autonomous vehicles,” Kudla said likening the technology to modern-day airlines. “I’ve used this analogy before…but 99% of an airplane flight is done by a computer. But the day a pilot isn’t in it, I’m not getting on that plane. Every one of the major OEMs has trucks running autonomously, but to have trucks on the road without drivers in them concerns me. And I don’t know if our governments or infrastructure will ever let that happen.”
Ritchie Huang, manager of engineering and safety in the compliance and regulatory affairs division at Daimler Trucks North America, agreed saying Daimler has similar views.
“From the Daimler perspective, we don’t see the driver being out of the picture for a very, very long time,” he said. “There is a need for the driver. We look at automation as building blocks, and it is a very slow process. You hear a lot of hype, and press about it, but we don’t believe that these self-driving trucks or driverless trucks will be here any time soon. The reason being there is not enough safety data out there. For us, its important for us to know how these trucks will impact society and reduce crashes (before they are allowed on the road).”
Geller said that in the midst of all this technology talk, it’s easy to get carried away, but that many things needs to be put in place before this advanced technology can truly take over.
“It’s hard not to get excited,” he said. “You think about in 100 years, we’ve gone from horse and carriage to driverless trucks…however having said that, there’s a whole host of things that have to be put into place first. The least of which would be improved communication. When that autonomous truck has to make a decision, I don’t want to see that hourglass spinning.”