Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Self-Driving Trucks Delivering Refrigerators

Wired reports: [edited]

Since early October, autonomous trucks built and operated by the startup Embark have been hauling Frigidaire refrigerators 650 miles along the I-10 freeway, from a warehouse in El Paso, Texas, to a distribution center in Palm Springs, California. A human driver rides in the cab to monitor the computer chauffeur for now, but the ultimate goal is to let the trucks rumble solo down the highway.

“This is the first time someone has demonstrated this end-to-end," Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues says. "It showcases the way that we see self-driving playing into the logistics industry.”

Embark believes semis, not personal cars, are the smartest use of autonomous technology. They’ve got some good arguments. First off, making a robot that can drive itself on the highway, where trucks spend nearly all their time, is relatively easy. You don’t have to account for pedestrians, cyclists, traffic lights, or other variables. The big rig just has to stay in its lane and keep a safe distance from fellow travellers.

Better yet, the need for autonomous trucks is very real: Trucks carry 70 percent of goods shipped around the US, but truckers are scarce. According to the American Trucking Associations, the industry is now short 50,000 drivers. As current drivers retire or quit, that number could hit 175,000 by 2024. Cut down the need for the human, and that shortage stops being a problem. And a self-driving truck isn't subject to rules that ban humans from spending more than 11 hours at a time behind the wheel.

Indeed, make a truck that doesn’t tire (or text), the thinking goes, and you save lives: In the US, more than 4,000 people die in crashes involving trucks every year, crashes that nearly always result from human error.
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