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FTR Conference: Trucking Drives Toward the Future

Drones, self-driving trucks, so-called “Uber” freight, the “internet of things” are among the emerging factors vying to reshape the North American trucking landscape, according to Steve Sashihara, CEO of the information technology and management firm Princeton Consultants.

Speaking at the recent FTR Transportation Conference, Sashihara said it will be less than 10 years before the industry sees those technologies – which have the power to disrupt current, traditional methods of moving freight – in common real-world applications.

For example, he pointed out over the last year drones have moved beyond a high-tech hobby, with the federal government issuing its first commercial drone rules and actual commercial deliveries being made, reports Heavy Duty Trucking.

The concept of self-driving vehicles in the past couple of years has moved from a “wacky” idea to reality with major OEMs and startups all putting autonomous commercial vehicles on the road.

At a separate  session, FTR’s Noël Perry and Larry Gross also spoke about the future of trucking and looked at recent developments and talk about autonomous and self-driving trucks.

By 2030, they said, these vehicles could save trucking more than $1.10 per mile on truckload linehaul movements. But it could also result in dramatically lowering the price of moving freight.

Gross believes automated trucking, or at least some form of it, such as platooning, will happen faster than most other changes that are on the horizon because “there is big money involved.”

“There is tremendous leverage to getting to a technology not just for trucks, but for cars that won’t text, play Pokeman Go, won’t spill coffee in its lap, don’t get tired, don’t get drunk,” he said. “Once we turn that [technology] corner, that is all going to happen fast, and that has big implications.”

Another big area ripe for big technology changes in what’s often called “Uber for trucking.” Based on the ride-sharing service Uber, in which people use apps to get rides, the idea is similar, but transporting freight rather than people. He said this is already being done by a handful of companies.

Sashihara said the success of the ride-share app Uber for private transport is a useful incentive for spurring innovation in freight.

“We don’t think people in general are going to order a 53-foot dry van trailer by an iPhone, hit a button and an owner-operator they have never met is going to respond and pick up the load, and all their intermediaries are gone,” he said. “But we do think it’s a useful incentive for looking at innovation…”

His consulting company believes there are several tailwinds pushing what he calls this “radical disintermediation,” including that transportation (drivers, equipment and storage) is a commodity, and that new ways of matching spare capacity with surge/seasonal demand are compelling to both buyers and sellers.

The result, Princeton sees, are several primary use cases:

  • Enable more cost-effective same-day / short-haul moves to take advantage of excess capacity, especially in less-than-truckload
  • Provide broader reach and ways to share situational awareness for all parties, such as the shipper, consignee, 3PL/broker, carrier, driver
  • Encouraging more standardized communications, including those in real-time that are both easy to implement and use. This also includes self-serve apps and even hookups without custom IT.

According to Sashihara, the ultimate result of all of this new technology will impact many areas of freight transportation, including workforce planning and scheduling, last mile deliveries, streamlining or eliminating paperwork, better estimates of when movements will be late, and in many other ways.

“This is the world that we are coming into and it’s a pretty exciting world,” he said.

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