Autonomous vehicles and the truck driver workforce — Taking the Hire Road

By Jack Glenn, FreightWaves

Don Lefeve, head of corporate affairs at Robotic Research LLC, joins this week’s episode of Taking the Hire Road to share his thoughts on the very near future of autonomy in trucking with Jeremy Reymer, founder and CEO of DriverReach.

“Autonomous technology offers a real benefit to safety,” Lefeve said. “It not only has the potential to greatly reduce the number of crashes each year, but can one day potentially eliminate them altogether.”

Autonomy isn’t as futuristic as it might sound. In fact, Lefeve has been delivering autonomous systems for the Department of Defense for the past 20 years. In addition, its use has already been implemented in certain trucking capacities.

The picture that pops into everyone’s head is of a driverless truck barrelling down the freeway. While that may come to fruition one day, it’s currently used to aid drivers and increase efficiencies surrounding yard movements and other such repeatable tasks. Besides its safety benefits, Lefeve stated that autonomy, even with a driver, makes financial sense.

Lefeve explains that there are a handful of different operational design domains or environments for autonomous driving, the most widely known being highway driving. But the reality today is that an autonomous highway vehicle cannot perform outside of that particular environment, meaning that it isn’t capable of doing final-mile tasks, for instance.

“Some of the major trucking autonomy companies are really focused just on the highway. We at Robotic Research, however, have made the strategic decision to focus on a number of use cases to really build that 360-degree autonomy to really give users that flexibility to use across environments, whether it be on-road or off-road, a yard or in a city, or a first- and last-mile setting.”

Lefeve predicts autonomous vehicle technology will take shape in the trucking industry over the next few years and may possibly see mass adoption by 2026 or 2027. However, he doesn’t view autonomous vehicles as a job threat as many see it, but rather expects it to simply create new jobs for truckers. Lefeve said a likely scenario could be that a “driver” takes the passenger seat in sort of a safety role as the autonomous truck does the driving.

“You may start your career as a driver, but be prepared to potentially become a remote driver in the future,” Lefeve added.