On Thursday night, Elon Musk rolled out Tesla's biggest gizmo yet: a fully electric semitruck. The Semi can go a whopping 500 miles between charges, hauling 80,000 pounds along the way. The truck comes with Enhanced Autopilot, the second generation of Tesla's semiautonomous technology, equipped with automatic braking, lane keeping, and lane departure warnings.
He now serves as a safety backup driver during tests of self-driving trucks by Otto, a San Francisco company that outfits trucks with the equipment needed to drive themselves. Two big red buttons in the cab--Otto calls them the Big Red Buttons--can cut off all self-driving activity. In all other testing of Otto-equipped trucks, a professional driver like Greg Murphy sits in the driver's seat, constantly ready to take the controls at a moment's notice, even on the highway. But Otto does expect to free up the driver during highway cruising to remain in the back of the cab relaxing, working, or even napping.
Roman Mugriyev was driving his long-haul 18-wheeler down a two-lane Texas highway when he saw an oncoming car drift into his lane just a few hundred feet ahead. There was a ditch to his right and more oncoming cars to his left, so there was little for him to do but hit his horn and brake. "I could hear the man who taught me to drive telling me what he always said was rule number one: 'Don't hurt anybody,'" Mugriyev recalls. But it wasn't going to work out that way. It shattered his front axle, and he struggled to keep his truck and the wrecked car now fused to it from hitting anyone else as it barreled down the road. After Mugriyev finally came to a stop, he learned that the woman driving the car had been killed in the collision.
Multiple companies are rolling out automated semi-trucks, but this technological progression threatens the livelihood of millions of truckers. Uber has been using its self-driving trucks to transport goods in Arizona. SAN FRANCISCO -- The trucks rumble out of California ports laden with freight destined for all points east, an incessant ballet of goods, gear and labor long synonymous with commerce, independence and the open road. But a key player in this quintessentially American dance could soon disappear: the trucker. A new technological dawn is breaking over an industry that moves 70% of the nation's wares, one that promises to impact the lives of 3.5 million truck drivers similar to how tractors revolutionized farming a century ago.
The trucks going down the road a decade from now will likely not look drastically different than they do today. And, despite all the hype over autonomous trucks, they probably will still have drivers. It's what's going on behind the dashboard and over the air that is truly exciting as we enter a new generation of smart and connected trucks. Class 8 trucks being introduced today are preloaded with an impressive -- and expandable -- suite of electronics and wireless communication capabilities. Over the next decade, experts say, those capabilities will exponentially expand the efficiency, safety, productivity, and visibility of commercial trucks hauling freight -- in ways that could fundamentally transform trucking and logistics in the 21st century. The three technologies driving these changes are vehicle connectivity, artificial intelligence, and autonomous operating systems. Many of the systems that will enable these changes are already on trucks today.