The future of self-driving technology in trucking

Prepared by Uber Freight

Mazen Danaf – Senior Economist and Applied Scientist
Laurent Hautefeuille – Head of Business Development and Strategy & Planning
Olivia Hu – Senior Business Development Manager
Bar Ifrach – Senior Director, Head of Marketplace Applied Science, and Data Science
Mike Place – Product Manager

In 2021, self-driving vehicles traveled approximately 4 million miles in California alone, doubling the previous year’s record. The trucking industry is well positioned to reap the benefits of this technology, which will be enjoyed by truck drivers, carriers, shippers, and road users.

The first, and most important, benefit is better road safety. In 2019, more than 5,000 lives were lost in large truck crashes, including 892 truck occupants. About one-third of these accidents occurred on interstates, freeways, and expressways. Vehicle- and environment- related factors accounted for only 13% of these crashes. The remaining 87% were caused by drivers’ performance/ non-performance (21%), decisions (38%), and recognition (28%).

While the safety benefits are likely to be welcomed by all, some state that the effects this technology will have on the trucking industry as a whole, and on truck drivers in particular, are less fully understood. At Uber Freight, we envision a bright future for the trucking industry, one where truck drivers and self-driving trucks connect long-haul and local-haul routes, thus complementing each other on capabilities and preferences. We think this model will support the growth in truck freight demand, create safer roads, provide better truck-driving jobs, and make goods more affordable and available for everyone.

In this paper, we demonstrate why trucking is the faster route to commercialize and scale self-driving technology. We then lay out the hub-to- hub model, which will allow autonomous trucks (ATs) to operate alongside those driven by people. This model achieves synergies that benefit carriers, drivers, and autonomous vehicle (AV) developers. We show that autonomous trucking will not be a dispensable service that simply aims at reducing the cost of trucking. Instead, it will become an essential component of supply chains that helps satisfy the growing demand while offering drivers better working conditions. Finally, we outline our predictions for how this technology will unfold over the coming years.