Leaders in Autonomous Vehicle Technology Launch Coalition to Study, Spur Dialogue on the Future of Work

Employers, Stakeholders to Host Events, Support Research to Assess U.S. Workforce Issues as Technology Evolves

Washington, D.C.— Today, a diverse group of leading companies and associations launched the Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity (PTIO), a collaboration committed to exploring how autonomous vehicles will impact American workers as well as identifying opportunities and developing solutions to address future challenges.

The group – whose members include American Trucking Associations, Daimler, FedEx, Ford, Lyft, Toyota Motor North America, Uber, and Waymo – intends to promote open and thorough discourse about workforce issues in this new economy.

“As with any prior technological revolution, the transition from traditional to autonomous vehicles will not happen overnight,” said PTIO Executive Director Maureen Westphal. “This evolution should allow adequate time for us to understand how autonomous vehicles may change the way we live and work and implement policies and programs to respond proactively to, and allow all Americans benefits from, those changes. This transition is likely to have significant benefits. Some potential benefits will be more obvious, like safer roadways, increased access to mobility, reduced traffic gridlock, improved air quality, and lower costs. Others, including greater efficiency on our roadways, economic gains, and enhanced employment opportunities, will require data and real-life demonstrations to be widely recognized and understood.”

In the first six months, the PTIO has set its goals to: 1) begin to develop a well-rounded and data-based understanding of the impact and implications of autonomous vehicles on the future of work, 2) solicit the expertise, concerns, and aspirations of a variety of interested parties, and 3) begin to foster awareness of existing and near-term career opportunities for workers during the transition to a new autonomous vehicle-enabled economy.

“Those currently working in the transportation industry—both on the ground and behind the scenes—are in the best position to shed light on how this transformation may change our lives,” Westphal added. “Now is the time to engage stakeholders in an open dialogue about this evolving technology. We look forward to continuing these conversations in communities throughout the country and leveraging the partnership to propose constructive steps in supporting jobs at the beginning of this transformative moment.”


The Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity is a coalition of leading companies and associations committed to improving the lives and opportunities for working Americans through commonsense adoption of autonomous vehicles. The coalition’s members include American Trucking Associations, Daimler, FedEx, Ford, Lyft, Toyota Motor North America, Uber, and Waymo.

Visit: OurAVFuture.org and follow @OurAVFuture to learn more about PTIO.

The only way the US can safely move forward with self-driving cars

via CNBC, by Reps. Bob Latta (R-OH) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)

American entrepreneurship has always pushed the boundaries of invention and ingenuity. It’s what spurred Henry Ford, in Dearborn, Michigan, to introduce the Model T, revolutionizing the automobile industry and the trajectory of what’s possible in transportation technology.

A hundred years from now, when our great-grandkids are zipping around town in self-driving cars, we want them to be able to tell the same story of American innovation.

The United States has long paved the way for the rest of the world in technological advancements, and with self-driving cars on the horizon, we must continue our proud history of leadership.

However, without a national policy, we could lose the opportunity to promote the safe deployment of self-driving cars and realize their full potential benefits. We need a federal framework that provides clear guidance to companies as they innovate while maintaining states’ and municipalities’ traditional roles in traffic safety and consumer protection.

“Recent high-profile accidents, including one that resulted in the tragic death of a pedestrian, have raised concerns about advancing self-driving technology.”

The U.S. cannot risk getting outpaced by Europe and Asia, where countries have already enacted legislation to support self-driving cars.

The House of Representatives did its job by passing legislation, and we got it done in a strongly bipartisan manner. Last year, after hundreds of meetings with stakeholders, including safety experts and advocacy groups, the Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously passed the SELF DRIVE Act.

The bill went on to pass the full House by voice vote with many of our colleagues coming to the House Floor to declare their support.

We heard the need for increased safety data for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), greater transparency in disclosures for the public, strengthening NHTSA’s ability to update safety standards designed for traditional vehicles, and consideration of societal changes likely to come with the deployment of self-driving cars.

And the SELF DRIVE Act delivers by establishing a national policy that encourages the testing and deployment of self-driving cars on America’s roads. It also requires that safety assessment certifications are filed by manufacturers and ensures NHTSA’s broad recall authority still applies to these new vehicles. Under this bill, NHTSA maintains the authority to remove vehicles off our roadways that it deems unsafe.

That said, we understand the apprehension many folks have about this technology. Self-driving cars have been making headlines in the past few months, but, unfortunately, not for the right reasons. Recent high-profile accidents, including one that resulted in the tragic death of a pedestrian, have raised concerns about advancing self-driving technology.

We fully agree that thorough and definitive investigations must be carried out by the appropriate agencies. However, these incidents underscore the need for a federal safety framework as implemented by the SELF DRIVE Act.

The SELF DRIVE Act takes an important first step by providing the structure and government oversight needed to help ensure that self-driving cars are as safe, if not safer, than cars on the road today. It’s also important that we work to restore and build consumers’ trust and confidence in this technology.

The bill also includes an advisory council to consider the effects of self-driving cars on labor and employment, mobility access for people with disabilities and senior citizens, environmental impacts, and more.

Legislation in the self-driving car space is coming at a critical time, and America needs to lead. While accidents involving self-driving vehicles might make the headlines, more than 37,000 Americans died behind the wheel of traditional cars last year.

The status quo is simply unacceptable. We have the potential to make a real difference by saving lives and improving mobility. But we have to get it right, and that takes federal leadership.

The safety and economic benefits of self-driving technology are too far-reaching, and the costs are too consequential, to delay its development. As Americans, it’s in our nature to pursue the next big thing on the horizon. We have the greatest innovators and strongest work ethic in the world, but we’re at risk of losing our hold in the race to self-driving technology.

Since the House reached bipartisan consensus on the SELF DRIVE Act last September, the Senate has been working on its own self-driving car legislation but progress has stalled. Calls for the Senate to halt its work on this legislation will only delay American leadership and further safety innovation.

We are ready to work with our Senate colleagues, and we urge them to act quickly before we begin to trail too far behind other countries and miss the chance to champion this emerging technology.

Commentary by Representatives Bob Latta (R-OH) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

From Horseless Carriage to Driverless Car

via The Wall Street Journal, by Irving Wladawsky-Berger

Cars once seemed clean and safe. Now autonomous vehicles seem cleaner and safer.

Driverless cars will be tested on California roads for the irst time without a human being behind a steering wheel under new rules for the fast-developing technology. The regulations approved Feb. 26, 2018, are a major step toward getting autonomous vehicles onto the streets of California, the nation’s self-driving car hub.

Autonomous vehicles may well be the quintessential symbol of the AI age. Cars are a major part of our daily lives. A self-driven car is a concept that requires little explanation, something we can all grasp.

It wasn’t that long ago that the notion of an autonomous vehicle driving us around while we read or sleep would have felt like the stuff of science fiction. Having such experimental vehicles coursing through public roads in Silicon Valley, Pittsburgh and Phoenix is concrete evidence that our smart machines are achieving human-like intelligence, raising a number of important questions: How long before autonomous vehicles are all around us? How will they impact our lives? What unintended consequences might we have to deal with? What should be done to ensure that they arrive as safely and smoothly as possible?

The March 1 issue of The Economist discusses these and other important areas, starting with the assumption that we will overcome whatever technological hurdles may impede us now. But there are wider economic, social and public policy issues to be explored. What can we learn from the transition to horseless carriages in the 20th century that can be applied to the transition to driverless cars?

At the turn of the 20th century, big cities were grappling with the growing volumes of horse manure and the diseases spreading from thousands of dead horses. By comparison, cars seemed clean and hygienic, and promised to provide safe and fast transportation — key reasons why they were so quickly embraced.

Cars granted enormous personal freedom and changed the world in unforeseen ways. But there were heavy societal costs. Just like cars were first viewed as a fix for the problems caused by horses, people are now looking to autonomous vehicles to help address problems brought about by cars, especially accidents, pollution, and congestion.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 37,461 lives were lost on U.S. roads in 2016, an increase of 5.6% from 2015. More than 2.4 million people were injured in 2015. Ninety-four percent of serious crashes can be linked to human choices and errors. The Economist notes that about 1.25 million people die, and another 20 million to 50 million are injured, in road accidents around the world each year. It’s the leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 29.

Autonomous vehicles promise to reduce these numbers drastically. Even at this early stage, there’s evidence that these vehicles are considerably safer than human-driven cars. Moreover, safety is the highest design priority for autonomous vehicles because to succeed they will have to be almost infallible. While people tolerate deaths caused by human drivers, they’re much less likely to do so when no humans are driving.


Electric cars are much cheaper to run than gasoline-powered versions, so most autonomous vehicles will almost certainly be electric, especially those used as robotaxis, a market that will demand low operating and maintenance costs. This should help reduce harmful emissions, particularly in high-density urban areas. In addition, electric vehicles are quiet, helping to reduce noise pollution.


It’s less clear how autonomous vehicles will help reduce congestion. Computer- controlled vehicles should be able to optimize routing to ease congestion. Over time, they should be able to travel more closely together than human-driven cars can, thus increasing road capacity.

In just a few short years, autonomous vehicle technologies have advanced from the phase of “not sure it can be done” to “it’s just a matter of time.” Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Uber Technologies Inc. and just about all auto companies are developing autonomous vehicles. But, there’s still a ways to go before the technology is ready for mass deployment.

“A fully autonomous car must solve three separate tasks: perception (figuring out what is going on in the world), prediction (determining what will happen next) and driving policy (taking the appropriate action),” explains The Economist.


Autonomous vehicles use a combination of technologies to perceive the world. These include cameras, radar and lidar — a method that creates a high-resolution 3-D map by using pulsed laser light, measuring the reflected pulses with sensors. These technologies have strengths and weaknesses that complement each other. Cameras are cheap, for example, but cannot measure distance. Lidar provides fine detail, including distance, but is expensive.


To predict how the objects around it will behave, an autonomous vehicle must first identify those objects — such as other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, road signs and so on. The hardest things to identify are unanticipated objects such as debris, roadwork, broken-down vehicles, and accidents. Rain, snow and puddles can also confuse an autonomous vehicle. Once objects are identified, the vehicle has to predict how they will behave in the next few seconds and then determine what actions to take.

Driving actions.

Autonomous vehicles are at a considerable disadvantage compared to human drivers, who are used to dealing with exceptions to the normal flow of traffic. In the near future — even as technologies continue to advance — it’s quite likely that the vehicles will need to ask for human assistance every so often. Humans providing assistance will likely be in central control rooms with access to all the data the vehicle is receiving. They will be able to direct the vehicle or even to take control and guide it remotely, to get around problems.

Advances in machine learning will be a great help, especially as autonomous vehicles can learn from each other’s data and experiences. Over time, there will likely be road lanes and entire areas dedicated to the vehicles, which will coordinate their actions.

The Economist predicts that self-driving vehicles will be initially deployed by fleet operators, not by individual owners, for two main reasons. First are the high costs of technology and a required support structure. These costs can be amortized over a fleet of vehicles in use almost all the time but don’t make financial sense for an individual likely to use the vehicle just 5% of the time. In addition, local governments may limit the use of autonomous vehicles, at least initially, to dense city centers and other specific areas where they would be used widely. That’s fine for a robotaxi but not for a private car.

Autonomous vehicles will have a profound impact on the auto industry. Car markers will have to reinvent their business models, perhaps to sell rides, not cars, The Economist says. Such a shift could open new opportunities. Whereas the car market is worth about $2 trillion a year, the market for personal transport is significantly bigger, perhaps as much as $10 trillion a year.
That’s why it’s attracting a number of new competitors, including big technology companies.

People who drive taxis, delivery vehicles and trucks are threatened by self-driving vehicles. But it’s quite possible that their jobs will be redefined rather than eliminated. Truck drivers, for example, could oversee platoons of vehicles traveling on highways, The Economist speculates.

Regulating complex, high-impact and rapidly evolving technologies is hard. Policymakers should work closely with autonomous vehicle firms to develop new safety standards, issue guidelines, and permit limited testing on public roads. But they should wait for evidence that the vehicles are safe before approving widespread deployment.

“A century ago cars raised fundamental questions about personal autonomy, freedom of choice and mobility,” writes The Economist. “Driverless cars present an opportunity to forge a new and better trade-off between personal mobility and societal impact. But [autonomous vehicles] will deliver on their promise only if policymakers — like passengers climbing into a robotaxi — are absolutely clear about where they want to end up.”

How the World’s Biggest Companies Are Fine-Tuning the Robot Revolution

via The Wall Street Journal, by William Wilkes

Automation is leading to job growth in certain industries where machines take on repetitive tasks, freeing humans for more creative duties

ANSBACH, Germany—A few years ago, Roland Rösch’s job involved grabbing scalding-hot auto parts from an oven and inspecting them for signs they had failed a safety test.
These days he still inspects, but the grabbing is being done by Fritz, a robot that auto-parts manufacturer Robert Bosch GmbH installed three years ago at this German factory as part of an automation effort.

Fritz is more efficient at handling the dangerous and repetitive task of lifting the 8-inch metal- and-circuitry pieces out of the furnace. This leaves Mr. Rösch less exposed to potential accidents and gives him time to test 20% more parts than he did before the robots.

The big question surrounding automation has long been whether robots would compete with workers or help them. Initially, workers feared robots would destroy jobs across the economy. Scholarly research and real-life experience have eased that concern, although some types of workers and industries are ending up on the losing side.

Today, the question is more precise: In which industries does automation help both employer and employee?

The companies that may have cracked the code are those that can assign repetitive, precise tasks to robots, freeing human workers to undertake creative, problem-solving duties that machines aren’t very good at. That’s particularly relevant for manufacturing, the food sector and service sectors such as billing, where timetable spreadsheets can be automated, freeing up workers to do higher-value tasks.

With demand for Bosch-built steering controls high, the company has used automation to increase its output, leading it to hire more people to perform the type of checks Mr. Rösch conducts.

“We looked for 20,000 new hires last year,” a mix of new positions and replacement staff, said Stefan Assmann, one of the company’s chief engineers, to join Bosch’s total 400,000 employees. Bosch factories world-wide now make use of 140 robotic arms, up from zero in 2011. “We can’t see robots having a negative impact on our workforce,” Mr. Assmann said.

Computers can zoom through activities humans find difficult, such as playing chess, doing calculus or repeating a set of movements precisely over time. Other, seemingly mundane tasks—brushing your teeth or running through the woods—can overwhelm even complex machines.

Those tasks call on multiple senses, including touch and depth perception, feeding information to a problem-solving brain, which can then finely adjust movements, said Satyandra Gupta, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California.

For companies, choosing the appropriate tasks to automate is important. Auto maker BMW AG automated some of the physical labor at the Spartanburg plant in South Carolina while retaining tasks involving judgment and quality control for workers.

Robots fit black, soundproofing rubber tubes to the inner rim of car doors, a task once done
entirely by hand, on the more than 5,000 or so car doors that pass through the production line each day. Human workers do final checks on the tube’s placement. The division of labor speeds up the process.

Since BMW introduced this and other automated processes over the past decade, it has more than doubled its annual car production at Spartanburg to more than 400,000. The workforce has risen from 4,200 workers to 10,000, and they handle vastly more complex autos—cars that once had 3,000 parts now have 15,000.

Being spared strenuous activities gives workers the time and energy to tackle more demanding and creative tasks, BMW said in a statement.

James Bessen, an economist who teaches at Boston University School of Law, said automation like that at the Spartanburg plant has enabled a huge increase in the quality and variety of products, which help spur consumer demand. BMW’s share of luxury-car sales in the U.S. has risen sharply, with over 300,000 cars sold last year compared with just over 120,000 in 1997, company figures show.

Tesla Inc., by contrast, has struggled with production of the Model 3 car at its Fremont, Calif., plant after its use of robots got out of balance. Undetected errors in parts built by robots caused bottlenecks in production, meaning it could build only 2,020 cars a week compared with the 5,000 it originally promised, according to the company.

Analysts at investment research firm Bernstein said Tesla automated welding, paint and body work processes, as other manufacturers have done, but also automated final assembly work, in which parts, seats and the engine are installed in the car’s painted shell. Errors in this work caused production bottlenecks. “Automation in final assembly doesn’t work,” said analyst Max Warburton.

“Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake…Humans are underrated,” wrote Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a tweet last month.

Robots have resulted in pay cuts for low-skilled machine operators, such as those who oversee wood- or leather-cutting machines, who play a diminishing role in production due to automation. And they have eliminated entire occupations, especially in simple manufacturing processes where there aren’t value-added jobs for displaced workers to move to.

Mining, for example, hinges on raw high-volume production—dig more rock, make more money—which is better done by machines that won’t tire or get injured.

Rio Tinto PLC plans to lay off drivers as it introduces self-driving trucks to move iron ore at its mines in Western Australia. The trucks, which follow sensors and maps of the mining site installed in onboard computers, can operate longer than human drivers and are more reliable. Beneath the ground, robotic drilling rigs have taken over the dangerous work of inserting explosives into holes dug in mining shafts.

The automation would improve safety and unlock significant productivity gains, helping generate annual savings of around $500 million beginning in 2021, said Chris Salisbury, the Rio Tinto board member in charge of the firm’s iron-ore mining operations. The company said it would look to retrain or find new roles for the workers affected by the automation.

Jobs in the garment industry are also disappearing as firms automate repetitive, high-volume tasks such as sewing and knitting, where machines can work faster and more accurately than humans.

Technological breakthroughs have enabled robots to take on delicate tasks, such as manipulating pliable fabrics, stitching pockets and attaching belt loops to pants. In the early days of automation, it was thought that humans would be needed for such finishing work.

The International Labor Organization has warned that nearly 90% of garment and footwear workers in Cambodia and Vietnam are at risk from “sewbots.”

At an aggregate level, however, the jobs created by automation outnumber those that are being destroyed, according to analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s David Autor and Utrecht University’s Anna Salomons.

People losing jobs, however, may not be the same ones filling newly created ones, since different skills are often required.

The Asian Development Bank said in April that automation had created an extra 34 million jobs in its region after price falls and quality improvements spurred demand for Asian factory-made goods.

More-developed economies have also seen job growth. Automation in the U.K. over the past 15 years has destroyed 800,000 lower-skilled services jobs—such as call centers—but has created 3.5 million higher-skilled ones in their place, according to a 2017 workforce study by consultancy firm Deloitte. The new jobs paid around $13,500 more than the jobs they replaced, Deloitte said.

Industrial employment in Germany is expected to rise 1.8% by 2021 because robots and automation are making the country’s factories more competitive, according to the Germany- based Centre for European Economic Research in April.

Automation can help feed demand for a product—because quality improves or it becomes less expensive or more available—which can create jobs as a result.

Finnish firm Fiskars AB, manufacturer of iconic and once pricey orange-handled scissors, used automation to reach more customers. Workers at its Helsinki plant formerly forged steel blades by hand in 2,700-degree furnaces, repetitive and dangerous work that was slow and costly.

When robots took over the tasks in 2011, technicians moved to quality control, testing the scissors to make sure the blades made the right “snip” sound as they sliced together, and if they smoothly cut strips of fabric. If necessary, workers could adjust the blades bit by bit, in a process calling on multiple senses that machines couldn’t replicate.

Once the process was partly automated, the company was able to increase production and lower prices, stimulating new demand without sacrificing quality, according to Chief Supply Chain Officer Risto Gaggl.

Employment at Fiskars has soared along with higher production, with the company now employing 8,560 people in its factories and offices compared with 4,515 in 2007.

In Europe, “we couldn’t find anyone who has been fired because of robots,” said Professor
Wolfgang Dauth, leader of a yearslong study into the impact on workers of robotization on the continent by the Bonn-based Institute of Labor Economics. Part of the reason is strong labor unions require retraining for workers when robots take over tasks. Another part is that Europe’s more-complex industries need human thinkers to work in complement with machines.

Electrolux AB, the world’s second-largest appliance maker by units sold after Whirlpool Corp. , has spent millions of euros on automating the production of washing machines and other devices, which are now assembled almost entirely by machine.

The company said robots freed up technicians to spend time on a creative task that is impossible to automate: designing and implementing changes to the factory floor and robot layout to customize procedures and make production more efficient. The constant, incremental improvements make a broader range of production in the same factory space possible, which in turn supports more workers.

The company said it tweaked hiring and training so that its workforce could successfully operate with robots, including a month of robotics training when hired and bimonthly half-day sessions. The company also built robot-testing areas at its factories where technicians can experiment with different robot hardware and software.

Employment at Electrolux has risen to more than 55,000 in 2017 from about 53,000 in 2011, reversing a yearslong trend of shrinking staff numbers after China’s December 2001 entry to the World Trade Organization flooded the market with cheaper washing machines.

“We don’t see automation going over 50%,” said Jan Brockmann, chief operations officer at Electrolux. “There’s not much point.” He said machines would likely take over routine work like assembly, freeing workers to make repairs and improvements to an increasingly efficient production line.

The slow pace of robot rollouts can shield workers, providing time for retraining. Companies rarely automate all of a worker’s tasks in one swoop, and it takes time to work out how best to use robots. The high cost of adding new automation also slows the process.

Bosch developed training courses for workers, teaching once single-skilled welders, joiners and mechanics basic software coding skills to enable them to use robots as tools much like hammers or screwdrivers. “We employ designers, engineers and scientists,” said Mr. Assmann, one of the firm’s chief engineers. “But you still need people who are good with their hands.”

U.K.-based food delivery company Ocado Group has progressively automated work processes and has added workers as demand for its once-exclusive internet-grocery shopping service has surged, in part driven by the efficiency savings that have lowered prices.

The company’s chief innovation is a complex web of grocery-transporting conveyor belts that allow it to process consumers’ online orders. Another set of robots under development will be assistants for its human maintenance staff, allowing them to be more productive in managing the conveyor belts and other machinery. The company shuts down operations for three hours each day for maintenance, and missing that window could mean being unable to process deliveries.

Instead of walking around the factory to collect whatever tools are needed, the robots will anticipate what tools the workers need, and bring them to hand, acting as automated assistants.

“Our business model would just fail if these machines didn’t work,” said Graham Deacon, head of automation at Ocado. “We need humans to make sure they don’t break down.”

A Career Trucker Helps To Steer The Path For Self-Driving Trucks

via NPR, by Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi

When Jeff Runions started his trucking career nearly 40 years ago, he had high hopes for what the job might bring.

“I wanted the American dream.”

Since then he’s seen the industry from every step of the ladder — as an independent owner-operator, a full-time company driver, a parts manager, and finally a trucking depot manager.

In his latest job developing autonomous trucks, Runions, 58, has a front row seat to what many see as the future of the 700 billion dollar trucking industry. He’s found himself in the middle of a heated race between Silicon Valley juggernauts like Uber and Google to get their self-driving trucks out onto the road first.

“It’s like when they went to the moon,” Runions says. “We’re not going to the moon, but it feels kinda like a new technology’s coming up and how many people would think a semi would be driving itself?”

Runions, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., works a startup called Starsky Robotics — a company smaller than Uber or Google. Instead of trying to beat their competition to developing fully autonomous vehicles, Starsky’s strategy is to develop trucks that are fully autonomous on the highway — then let remote drivers take the wheel from offices filled with arcade-style consoles, when they hit city streets.

The strategy is still in its testing phase: Runions is a safety-driver. He sits in the driver’s seat of the truck cabin, ready to take control if there’s trouble. His test rides range from an hour and a half to eight hours-long.

He also works alongside his company’s programmers to test and tweak the truck’s sensors and software.

“I come up with some suggestions once in a while and they do work. I’m not an engineer like these guys are, but sometimes they listen to me. So, that means I’m part of the team too,” he said.

Runions, after all, has nearly four decades of experience in the trucking industry under his belt.

In the mid-80s, he became an owner-operator, and purchasing a truck and leasing out his services on contract to freight companies.

For a while, Runions enjoyed the freedom that came with having his own truck and the camaraderie he found with fellow truckers he met while crisscrossing the country.

“We were like the cowboys of the old days, doing our own thing,” he said. “We were truckers, and we were young. We were having a good time.”

But as the years dragged on, life on the road began to lose its luster. Between regular sleep deprivation and a diet based on truck stop junk food, Runions started to feel that the trucker lifestyle was unhealthy. And the hectic schedule took a toll on his family life.

“You just get tired of the same stuff all the time and sleeping in the truck,” he said. You’re in this little box all the time. You can’t really go anywhere. The only thing you gotta do is go to sleep and get up and do it again.”

After fuel prices surged in the early 2000s, Runions decided that going it alone didn’t make financial sense for him anymore. After more than 20 years of contracting himself out, Runions sold his truck and took a job with a commercial trucking company.

But he soon found that the new gig had its own downsides.

“A normal driver that works for a company, they gotta stay out three weeks at a time, and they give them two days off when they get home,” he said. “Soon as they get home, after their two days, they gotta go right back out for 21 more days. That ain’t much of a life. Then you’re staying in that box again.”

Runions eventually worked his way up to management, but despite the position’s better pay, he found its hours and stress were even worse.

“I was always in there from 3 o’ clock in the morning to 3 o’ clock in the afternoon,” he said. “I was [worn] out, so I decided to try something that was different. And you can’t get more different than this.”

Runions came across an online ad for a technology company in search of experienced truck drivers. At first, he was unsure about getting behind the wheel of a self-driving truck, but he says he’s come to enjoy the work and its hours. “I’m home when I need to be,” he said. “I’m a happy person now.”

Runions says that since he began as a test-driver in early 2017, he’s heard pushback from people who doubt the safety of autonomous vehicles.

“People are scared of this technology because they don’t understand exactly what’s going on with it,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons Runions finds his new job meaningful.

“I feel like I’m helping make this truck right. And we want to make sure that it’s safe as it can be being on the highway,” he said.

He’s also heard from fellow truckers who fear that the new technology will put them out work. But Runions points out the of tens of thousands of open trucking jobs now that the industry is struggling to fill. He thinks that demand plus the growing need for remote drivers mean there’ll be plenty of trucking jobs down the road.

And, Runions says that allowing drivers to work remotely will ultimately make their lives better.

“If you can get where you can [have] a 40-hour hourly [weekly] job like a regular person and be home for your family, can’t ask no more than that,” Runions said.

“That’s like a regular life. A lot of drivers don’t have that.”

NPR’s Emily Sullivan produced this story for digital. NPR’s Eliza Dennis helped produce this story for broadcast.

Why millennials should start considering truck driving

Via NBC News, by Nicole Spector

Commercial truck driving has a reputation for grueling hours, weeks away from home, and a burly machismo that isn’t particularly welcoming to women. It’s high time that reputation got a makeover. A 2017 report by the American Trucking Association noted that the industry needs to hire almost 900,000 more drivers to meet rising demand, while the latest jobs report noted that 185,000 jobs have been added over the past four months alone. Bottom line: this sector is getting desperate for talent, and the problem is only worsening.

“The shipping infrastructure is facing a tight capacity crunch this year, and the small- to-mid-sized business shipper will feel the upward pressure in raised rates due to the lack of drivers and trucks available,” said Tim Story, EVP of freight operations at Unishippers. “The new mandate could result in a 4-8 percent loss in capacity (available trucks on the road).

And the workers prized by many of these companies aren’t getting any younger.

“The average age of commercial truck drivers is 55 and rising rapidly,” said Jon Gilbert of PLG Consulting. “The concern is that older, qualified truck drivers are retiring, and we are not getting adequate replacement drivers.”


Young people looking at a first or new career may be disenchanted by commercial trucking not only because of what Gilbert describes as an “arduous lifestyle,” but because they need a special kind of license (CDL) to qualify. Though some companies offer free training (tuition can cost up to $8,000), that’s hardly the standard, and either way it’s a solid investment of time. You also need to meet physical and health requirements, and, in what is perhaps the biggest obstacle the industry sees here, be at least 21 to cross state lines.

“Right off the bat we’re knocking a significant portion of potential workforces out with that age restriction,” Brian Andalman, director of carrier sales and client services at AFN, told NBC News. “If kids aren’t interested in doing college but can’t attack this arena, that’s a big hurdle.”

Neil Abt, senior editor at Fleet Owner, noted that there are efforts in the industry to “create graduated licensing programs that would allow 18-20-year-olds into the industry, as opposed to them starting a career elsewhere and being gone by the age of 21.”

“It is common for a speaker at a trucking conference to ask the crowd to raise their hands if they hope their children become truck drivers. Few, if any, ever raise their hands.”

However, the larger issue in appealing to younger adults seems to point to deeper roots.

“It is common for a speaker at a trucking conference to ask the crowd to raise their hands if they hope their children become truck drivers,” said Abt. “Few, if any, ever raise their hands.”

Abt notes that in recent years there has been more recruiting from companies via social media, which is “a good start”, but Story observes that companies are struggling to lure fitting candidates — and it’s hurting their wallets, especially if they’re shelling out higher pay to retain top talent.

“Carriers are having to spend more money on advertising to get people to apply, but only getting one to two drivers out of each 100 applications they receive,” said Story. “Between the training required, predominantly male-dominated field, age hurdles and more, carriers are having to pay drivers higher rates that will continue to increase. Right now, there aren’t enough qualified drivers in the applicant pool to satisfy the needs of the industry. Until a recruitment solution is identified, it will continue to be a problem.”

One company that seems to have found a solution, at least for itself, is UPS. Dan McMackin, public relations manager at UPS and a former truck driver himself, told NBC News that while the company does have to get creative during the Christmas season to bring in new workers, the company isn’t facing any general shortage of drivers.

“We have roughly 127,000 drivers, and about 20,000 of those are tractor/trailer,” McMackin said, adding that the majority of the drivers work in delivery. “About 12,000 or so are over the road, but most just go out in one day for around five hours and then return that distance. This makes it a very unique and attractive job offering because you don’t have to sleep in a truck cab or berth or eat at truck stops. We’re one of the largest users of rail in America, so any ground shipments going beyond about two states away from origin go on the rails.”

Though UPS does recruit outside the company, most of its drivers come from the UPS pipeline and, like McMackin, have held other internal positions before they work up to being a driver, where the perks are cushy. “They get a better package than I do: full pension, full healthcare, and a 401(k) that the company matches.”

McMackin adds that while he’s not certain of the stats, the job does skew mostly male, but that said, some of the best drivers he’s ever worked with have been women, and he hopes to see more taking the wheel.

That most truck drivers are men is a critical point, and an area where the sector has the most advancements to make.

Driver perks can include full pension, full healthcare, and a company-matched 401(k).

Ellen Voie, president and CEO of the Women In Trucking Association (WIT) is working to bring a sense of community to women drivers, as well as to foster initiatives that could attract more female truckers. Right now, only seven percent of the commercial trucker workforce is female. That number may have perhaps made sense 20 years ago, when you needed some brawn to navigate these massive vehicles, but trucks are so much more efficient today.

“There’s very little physical exertion anymore,” Voie told NBC News. “Even the hood releases and the dollies are hydraulic. You just push a button. There aren’t any challenges that women have that men don’t when it comes to the job. But they do prioritize differently. Women are much more concerned about safety, both in terms of the safety of the equipment and their personal safety. The [former concerns] mostly maintenance, but personal safety, that is huge. Women are much more situationally aware and cautious. They don’t park in the back where it’s dark. They will often have a dog in the truck with them, and a personal safety device like a can of hornet spray because it can reach up to 15 feet.”

Currently WIT has over 4,000 members, mostly in North America. The organization touts a Facebook group, a weekly newsletter, a quarterly magazine, various workshops and events, and an annual conference. Additionally, WIT works with manufacturers to provide women’s feedback and suggestions.

“We work with the manufacturers on design and ergonomics so that women can feel as comfortable as men, given that they generally have shorter arms and legs,” said Voie, adding that women often want their truck not to feel more like a home. Some manufacturers like Peterbilt, Voie notes, are paying attention. “We’re excited about their porta-potty and security alarm system.”

WIT is also optimistic about highlighting the job for the youngest generation. “In a few weeks, we’re coming out with a truck driving doll,” she told NBC News. “We’re just really trying to introduce this field as an option to girls.”


A subject that has been sending jitters through the trucking industry at large is the slow but certain rise of self-driving vehicles. Drivers worry that these will replace their jobs, and this only deters young people more. Why join a workforce that will be obsolete in a decade?

“The talk of autonomous vehicles is creating a fear of truck driver extinction,” said Story. “More truck drivers are migrating to lucrative job positions in construction or manual labor remediation, where there is no current automation threat.”

But some experts think that autonomous trucks could only help solve just about every problem the trucking industry has right now, including those of employees.

“Autonomous technologies could be the key,” said Abt. “This does not mean completely driverless, I cannot stress this enough. It is about making the job of driving easier, safer and maybe even more fun. A driver would still be needed in the vehicle, for emergencies, for handling the exit or entrance from the interstates, and for actually driving on the local roads. Additionally, there are technology limitations with weather, quality of road markings, and other issues.”

Also, a truly autonomous vehicle isn’t going to be standard anytime soon — not when you consider just how much is involved for safety and security.

“You may see them here and there in the next two years, but it will be at least 10 to 15 years before autonomous trucks can capture a significant portion of the industry,” said Vibhanshu Abhishek, assistant professor of information systems at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. “You need a ton of data to assess the optimal way to respond to whatever a truck is seeing or sensing to have the safest and best running vehicle. It will take a long time to get data for every kind of situation, and intuition is a difficult thing to build in.”

With self-driving trucks, maybe the driver won’t have stare out of the window all the time.

But even when it does happen, drivers shouldn’t think it means they’ll be out of work. If anything, they’ll just work differently, and perhaps more enjoyably.

“Maybe the driver won’t have to be staring all time out the window, and can do other things,” said Abhishek. “I can’t predict the exact business model, but I am certain that the whole trucking experience will change such that it will be appealing to young truck drivers. They’ll be attracted to the technology, and because the truck has so many safety features, they won’t need as much experience.”

“I also think that it will open the market up to more women,” said Abhishek. “It could really help solve this shortage, which is not just an American problem, but a global problem. Solving it could grow the economy worldwide.”

The success of AVs will depend on sensible regulation

via The Economist

Smart regulation and smart technology must go hand in hand

REGULATING A COMPLEX new technology is hard, particularly if it is evolving rapidly. With autonomous vehicles just around the corner, what can policymakers do to ensure that they arrive safely and smoothly and deliver on their promise?

The immediate goal is to make sure that AVs are safe without inhibiting innovation. In America, experimental AVs are allowed on the roads in many states as long as the companies operating them accept legal liability. Chris Urmson of Aurora says American regulators have got things right, working closely with AV firms and issuing guidelines rather than strict rules that might hamstring the industry. “It’s important that we don’t leap to regulation before we actually have something to regulate,” he says.

At the other end of the spectrum, Singapore’s government has taken the most hands-on approach to preparing for AVs, says Karl Iagnemma of nuTonomy, an AV startup that has tested vehicles in the city-state. For example, it has introduced a “driving test” that AVs must pass before they can go on the road. This does not guarantee safety but sets a minimum standard. The city of Boston has done something similar, requiring AVs to be tested in a small region before roaming more widely.

Elsewhere, regulators have permitted limited testing on public roads but want to see more evidence that the vehicles are safe before going further, says Takao Asami of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance. “Simple accumulation of mileage will never prove that the vehicle is safe,” he says. Instead, regulators are talking to carmakers and technology firms to develop new safety standards. Marten Levenstam, head of product strategy at Volvo, likens the process to that of developing a new drug. First you show in the laboratory that it might work; then you run clinical trials in which you carefully test its safety and efficacy in real patients; and if they are successful, you ask for regulatory approval to make the drug generally available. On this analogy, autonomous cars are currently at the clinical-trial stage, without final approval as yet.

What form would that approval take? Eventually, it will mean formal certification of vehicles capable of operating fully autonomously, so they can be offered for sale. But initial approval is likely to be granted to operators of specific robotaxi fleets, rather than vendors of particular vehicles, suggests Mr Levenstam, because fleet operators will monitor all vehicles closely to ensure and maintain safety. Even this will be a calculated risk. It is not possible to prove that a new drug is entirely safe, but the risk is worth taking because of the benefits the drug provides. It will be the same for AVs, he suggests. After all, the status quo of human-driven vehicles is hardly risk-free.

Mr Asami draws another analogy, with aviation. “Black box” data recorders and careful testing have enabled air transport to evolve, despite crashes, because passengers know safety is taken seriously. In fact, America’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has started applying its aviation expertise to autonomous vehicles. In many ways AVs are more complex than aircraft, says Deborah Bruce of the NTSB, because they are closely surrounded by other things that move in unpredictable ways.

But medicine and aviation have global (or at least regional) regulatory standards, whereas AVs do not. The current patchwork of regulation will have to be simplified if the technology is to be widely deployed. “Uniformity is the friend of scalability,” says Mr Iagnemma. Questions of insurance and liability will also have to be worked out. Amnon Shashua of Mobileye worries that because of today’s regulatory uncertainty, fatal accidents involving fully autonomous vehicles could plunge the industry into legal limbo, or kill it altogether. He has proposed a set of rules that define how a car should respond in all 37 scenarios in the 6m-entry accident database maintained by NHTSA, America’s car-safety regulator, and would like to see these rules adopted as an open industry standard. That would absolve carmakers from making implicit ethical choices in their software while leaving room for innovation in other areas. Mr Iagnemma thinks it is a good start. Without such standards, he says, every company will develop its own way of translating the rules of the road, devised for humans, into a code that can be followed by machines.

Political potholes ahead

The risk of a backlash seems real enough. A survey by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a consumer lobby, found that 64% of Americans were worried about sharing the road with AVs. In another survey, by the Pew Research Centre, 56% of Americans said they would not ride in a self-driving vehicle (see chart). Seeing AVs in action will be an important element of building public trust. In cities where AVs are commonplace, drivers have got used to them. Uber, Waymo and others are also starting to provide robotaxi rides in limited areas, so people can discover that riding in an AV is thrilling for the first 30 seconds and then quickly becomes boring. “But that’s the response we really want,” says Noah Zych of Uber, because it means riders feel safe.

Assuming that AVs can be shown to be safe, regulators will face a second challenge: setting the rules around how and where they operate, and how they relate to other forms of transport. Fine-tuning of pricing will, in theory, let planners control congestion and promote equal access to mobility.

Governments wishing to encourage the adoption of robotaxi services could go further, restricting the use of private cars (Gothenburg, London, Milan, Singapore and Stockholm already have congestion charges of various kinds) or banning them from some areas. That might be unpopular, and not just with car-owners. “I think there will be some real resistance to measures that compel people to use autonomous vehicles,” says Peter Norton of the University of Virginia. AVs could be seen as an Orwellian technology, an instrument of surveillance and social control.

Protesters might object by standing in front of AVs and blocking traffic. That could lead to calls for AV lanes to be fenced off, “thus making city streets even more inhospitable to non-motorists than they already are”, says Brian Ladd, author of “Autophobia”, a history of opposition to cars. But an unregulated introduction of robotaxis could also cause problems. Rival fleet operators might flood the roads with vehicles offering cut-price rides, making congestion worse.

Choices about transport and pricing are inescapably political in nature. How cities deal with them will depend on both economics and political dynamics, notes Justin Erlich of Uber. “We should be exploring lots of different policies in lots of different cities,” he says. Meanwhile, two principles can help.

The first is to consider AVs in the context of the wider transport system, and be clear about what role they are expected to play. AVs might be deployed as the primary means of transport in a particular area; or they could be used in “first mile, last mile” mode to ferry people to and from railway stations, filling mobility gaps and complementing other forms of transport.

The second principle is to be mindful of the balance of freedoms. AVs can potentially free people from driving, congestion, pollution and parking—but in return may require them to give up some other freedoms, such as the ability to take their own vehicle anywhere. In liberal countries, AVs will be accepted only if people feel that they enhance freedom rather than reduce it.

A century ago cars raised fundamental questions about personal autonomy, freedom of choice and mobility. AVs will do the same again. But this time around, with the benefit of hindsight, there is a chance that they will be seen not simply as a new form of transport but as a technology with far-reaching social and economic implications. Driverless cars present an opportunity to forge a new and better trade-off between personal mobility and societal impact. But AVs will deliver on their promise only if policymakers—like passengers climbing into a robotaxi—are absolutely clear about where they want to end up.