Since its inception, STC has closely tracked the testing and deployment of automated vehicle technology. Many have seen trucking as the natural early adopter of this technology, given the acute driver shortage and existential need for the efficiency gains automated vehicles promise. So far, however, Automated Vehicle companies have found few motor carriers willing to pilot the technologies given outstanding safety, technology maturity, and liability concerns.
However, that’s not stopping technology providers. STC has noticed an interesting trend in which well-funded technology companies are building their own fleets to gather the data and momentum they’ll need to fully commercialize one day. Here are a few examples:
- TuSimple has a fleet of 50 autonomous trucks delivering freight for customers in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas
- Waymo has a fleet of 8 trucks that will be hauling freight for the likes of C.H. Robinson and JB Hunt in Texas, where it is building a new nine-acre operations center.
- AI Fleet, whose focus is using artificial intelligence to increase productivity by eliminating driver downtime and other back-office inefficiencies, currently operates a fleet of 50 trucks and drivers while it perfects its technology.
STC can’t help but wonder about the end game here. If these tech companies, while perfecting their technology, ultimately demonstrate the predicted productivity gains and the improved profit margins that come with them, might they be creating a new trucking segment — technology provider and motor carrier competitor?
As technology providers continue to integrate with trucking’s business partners, like brokers, shippers, and other service providers, their leverage over motor carriers may continue to grow. While these providers may be more likely to consolidate and resume a more traditional position of allied suppliers to the industry, sophisticated fleets are likely “watching their six” and considering ways to build partnerships early.