To some, the Trucker is a modern folk hero, an American archetype engaged in cross-country adventure to ensure that consumerism keeps on truckin’. But if you remove the red, white, and blue colored glasses, trucking can be seen as dangerous to the driver, those who share the road, and the environment. If the innovators at Otto, a newly founded business dedicated to transforming the commercial trucking industry with self-driving vehicles, have their way, the trucker may undergo a healthful, green makeover for the potential benefit of society at large.
Previously under development out of the public eye, Otto was unveiled in a Medium post written by Anthony Levandowski and Lior Ron, two of the ex-Google employees that founded Otto. In the post, the authors detail the costs of the trucking status quo: 28% of road pollution is generated by commercial trucking, despite the sector only accounting for 1% of all road traffic; road fatalities exacerbated by exhausted truck drivers; inefficient use of resources to move goods; and a shortage of workers willing to drive trucks. Otto’s solution? Autonomous trucks. “We intend to enhance the capabilities of the Otto truck, collect safety data to demonstrate its benefits, and bring this technology to every corner of the U.S. highway system,” said Levandowski and Lior.
Otto’s approach is unique in that it is designing technology to complement truck drivers, not replace them. They intend to install technology on existing trucks to allow truck drivers to, among other things, get enough sleep so that they can safely guide their cargo to its destination. However, one wonders how long this delicate balance between labor and automation can last. As autonomous driving technology continues to improve and costs of labor rise, businesses may make the decision to forgo human drivers altogether. The fate of these truck drivers and the businesses and communities designed around truck routes remains unclear. Technology may reduce the harm of trucking, but better policy will be needed to handle the fallout of disruptive change.
Images via Otto