Artificial Intelligence: The Trucking Industry’s Biggest Asset

By Avi Geller, founder and CEO of Maven Machines via GlobalTrade

About 3.6 million professional truck drivers and another 7.95 million people work in the U.S. trucking industry. It’s an industry well-positioned to benefit from artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

Research firm MarketsandMarkets estimates the AI market within the transportation industry will grow at a compound annual growth rate of almost 18% between 2017 and 2030, and its size increase from $1.2 billion in 2017 to $10.3 billion in 2030.

Truck manufacturers including Daimler, Volvo, Navistar, Paccar and others, have already begun developing autonomous truck technology, for example. Waymo, an American autonomous driving technology development company has also installed self-driving technology in semi-trucks and plans to test on haulage routes in New Mexico and Texas. Tesla plans to deliver its first trucks in 2021. Pittsburgh-based Locomotion, an autonomous trucking technology company, expects to equip at least 1,120 Wilson Logistics tractors with its Autonomous Relay Convoy (ARC) technology starting in 2022.

In addition to autonomous driving, the trucking industry has the potential to reap many benefits from AI technology in accident prevention and safety, fuel efficiency, route optimization and workflow management.

Accident prevention and safety

One hundred percent autonomous driving may be a ways off, but already we’re seeing safety controls incorporated into trucks. For example, a Tesla computer will control its trucks’ semi-autonomous system for accelerating, brakes and steering — though drivers will still need to keep a hand on the wheel.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) revised its HOS to provide more flexibility for drivers. However, many drivers still log 11 hours on the road each day — the potential for mistakes increases during the later period of a driving shift. AI-guided semi-autonomous trucks will help reduce safety hazards created from tired or distracted driving.

Fuel efficiency

One commercial truck can use over $70,000 of fuel each year. Multiply this amount by the number of trucks in a fleet, and you can see why trucking companies constantly search for strategies to improve fuel efficiency. AI-guided, self-driven trucks could cut fuel costs up to 15%, according to Plus (formerly A U.C. Berkeley Labor Center report estimated the industry could save $35 billion in fuel efficiency gains. Additionally, fuel monitoring and idle reporting features within AI-powered fleet management software platforms can help managers monitor fuel usage to reduce waste and costs.

Fleet management and route optimization

AI offers the perfect partner for fleet managers, increasing their effectiveness and helping to streamline and make processes more efficient. For example, these technologies can detect patterns humans might miss, increasing productivity by more accurately pinpointing which drivers to assign certain loads.

Route optimization benefits from AI, too. The technology streamlines route optimization, minimizing drive time and mileage by enabling fleet managers and drivers to find the most efficient, quickest order to schedule stops. AI can process traffic patterns and use algorithms to predict delays, even alerting dispatchers and managers earlier to facilitate load rescheduling or driver rerouting.

Drivers, fleet managers and customers benefit from AI-driven software capable of using real-time data about traffic, weather, and historical data on transit times to provide more accurate ETAs. Because AI constantly evolves, route optimization will become even more streamlined.

Workflow technology

The trucking industry has already benefited from many technology solutions designed to increase productivity and efficiency.

Drivers and fleets can use AI — together with cloud computing, machine learning (ML) and IoT — to move from paper management to digital management processes. Other technology has enabled fleets to identify customers affected by import tariffs, for example, and connect with those customers to develop mitigation strategies.

AI doesn’t just observe data or patterns. It’s capable of predicting potential scenarios based on past patterns. Workflow and fleet management software incorporating AI technology can help drivers and fleet managers with real-time navigation, data monitoring and predictive maintenance alerts. The future of AI within the trucking industry could include other businesses like capacity-as-a-service, predictive on-demand maintenance and shared insurance optimization.

AI’s future in the trucking industry

CB Insights reported that investors dedicated $2 billion to trucking tech startups in spring 2019. The transport and logistics sector represents $26 billion of total startup funding in the logistics industry.

Artificial intelligence has already begun to deliver on its promise to increase productivity, reliability, safety and sustainability within the trucking sector. While not a turnkey solution, AI technology relies on human knowledge to understand what to do. AI won’t replace people — it will reshape their roles and improve their work processes. AI is revolutionizing the trucking industry and promising to not just drive efficiency, but also better experiences for fleet management, drivers, customers and other critical stakeholders.