Late last month, a picture started circulating online of a Waymo self-driving truck. Waymo trucks, originally part of the Google X self-driving vehicle division, has become an independent group with its sights set on the trucking industry. While self-driving vehicles were slated to roll out for the freight industry in 2020, Waymo trucks may be hitting the roads sooner than expected.
A while back, Waymo was spotted testing self-driving minivans and other personal vehicles. Seeing Waymo trucks on the road in California brings a whole new set of questions. What do Waymo trucks offer that other large self-driving vehicles don’t? How much are they going to cost? How safe are they? Most importantly, why are we seeing them so soon? Waymo trucks may be trying to to get a jump on financial forecasts, which showed a shortage of skilled and experienced drivers in the trucking industry. With a disparity of roughly 10 percent in the first half of 2017, nationwide, Waymo trucks may be planning to leverage that gap to introduce self-driving vehicles in the freight industry.
Forecasts Vs. Reality
The future is always uncertain, and forecasts for the trucking industry can sometimes be as reliable as the weather in New England. At the beginning of the year, forecast had the trucking industry on the mend, and filling the vacant roles for skilled drivers. The disparity is still there, six months later, but it also is not growing. For now, people are still placing orders, and companies still need goods shipped. In other words, the demand is still is still there for fleet owners, but finding the right employees to fill roles is still a challenge.
The Human Element
While Waymo trucks seem to be ramping up testing and production for an unveiling in the near future, the human element is nowhere near down for the count. While there still may be a vacant roles with fleets, Uber and Amazon are rolling out their services, which are set to match owner operators with available shipments. In other words, independent drivers will be filling in the employment gap. This may mean fleets will be looking for drivers in the short-term, but owner operators will be keeping the trucking industry moving forward, as a whole. The age of the self-driving truck may have to wait a few years.
Currently, Waymo trucks are competing with Apple in the field of automated vehicles for the freight industry.