Autonomous semis driving through Phoenix-area as truck driver shortage looms

By David Caltabiano, AZ Family

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -Truck driver shortages leading to supply chain issues are a concern in the holiday season, and the solution sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie. Advancements in self-driving cars are happening in Arizona, and experts and one major company believe it’s the answer to the driver shortage we’re seeing.

You may have seen big blue semis on the Loop 202 or I-10. They could be a solution to the truck driver shortage affecting the supply chain. The Waymo Via Trucking units drive themselves in a pilot program in Arizona and Texas.

“The last year really put a spotlight on the truck driver shortage,” said John Verdon with Waymo Via Trucking’s Lead Business and Partnerships. “It’s an area where our technology can help immensely.”

Verdon said their autonomous technology is being used with existing trucking companies experiencing that shortage. “We are very much focused on automating the long haul highway driving; that’s the hardest trucking job to recruit, given that a driver has to spend days, weeks away from their family,” said Verdon.

The American Trucking Association reports 80,000 driver openings across the country, which is on track to double by 2030.

“The attrition rate of drivers is very, very high; I’m not blaming them. That’s the nature of the industry,” said Arizona State University Supply Chain Professor Hitendra Chaturvedi. He says sooner than you know it, no drivers will be needed.

“That is going to happen, and anyone who thinks it won’t happen is entirely wrong; they’re like an ostrich with their head in the sand,” said Chaturvedi.

Chaturvedi said industries improve with new technology, and he expects automation to alleviate many of the issues in the supply chain we see today.

“In my opinion, it’s going to be a great thing, it’s going to cut costs of maintenance, it’s going to increase reliability, it’s going to increase efficiency,” said Chaturvedi. “In the end, consumers are going to win, and they’re going to win big.”

Right now, the autonomous trucks in Arizona and Texas have people inside the cab, but in the coming years, no one will be inside. The first fleet will drive across the southwest in “the coming years.” Chaturvedi expects job loss from this but said new tech always brings new jobs.