The top five autonomous trucking companies transforming logistics supply chains
The US logistics industry has a problem. First documented in 2005, the nation’s trucking sector has been experiencing a labor shortage, with the 2018 deficit reaching approximately 60,800 truckers. According to the American Trucking Association, the disparity between the number of truck drivers needed on the road and the number available could reach as high as 160,000 by 2028.
One way to solve the problem of not having enough people to support an industry is to reduce the number of people required. Allied Market Research reported last year that the global market for self-driving trucks is expected to exceed $1bn for the first time in 2020, and continue growing at a rate of around 10.4% each year until 2025.
As with a significant number of technologies that make their way into commercial and civilian use, the story of the autonomous truck begins in the military. In June 1995, Popular Science ran a story on the US Army’s partnership with Red Zone Robotics to develop and build self-driving trucks. Aimed at reducing driver error, overcoming the limitations of human endurance, and protecting soldiers from IEDs and other forms of attack, the Army planned to use its self-driving trucks to automate all but one vehicle in its convoys. “In a convoy, only the lead vehicle would be driven by a human. Each follower truck would use a satellite receiver, an inertial guidance system and ground-speed sensors to plot its course,” wrote Ray Nelson in the report. While the Army’s prediction that “self-driving convoy trucks could be on the road in as little as five years” proved optimistic, the problems the program attempted to solve have clear parallels to those being met by enterprise logistics chains today.
The possibilities of autonomous trucking extend beyond solving a labor shortage. A self-driving truck doesn’t get tired, doesn’t need to stop to eat and will obey road safety laws to the letter (in theory). According to the Allied Market Research report, the added predictability and interconnected behaviour of autonomous trucks could also lead to marked reductions in traffic congestion. The mass adoption of autonomous trucking could have myriad positive effects on the global supply chain, and completely change the future of overland transport.
With the market expected to explode over the next decade, Supply Chain Digital presents its top three companies currently leading the autonomous trucking revolution.
UPS and TuSimple
This week, logistics and packaging giant UPS officially publicised its ongoing partnership with self-driving vehicle startup TuSimple. UPS revealed that it has been using the startup to haul freight shipments between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, since May.
The investment will reportedly support continued exploration of the requirements for a successful autonomation of the company’s fleet.
“UPS is committed to developing and deploying technologies that enable us to operate our global logistics network more efficiently. While fully autonomous, driverless vehicles still have development and regulatory work ahead, we are excited by the advances in braking and other technologies that companies like TuSimple are mastering,” commented Scott Price, Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at UPS.
UPS, which delivered a total of 5.2bn packages (that’s 20.7mn per day) in 2018, has a fleet of around 123,000 package cars, vans, tractors, motorcycles, including more than 10,000 alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles. Even automating a small portion of its overland logistics capabilities would have a significant impact on the makeup of the US’ freight supply chain.
Founded in 2016, San Francisco-based startup Embark Trucks has quickly made its mark on the emerging industry. The company currently operates the longest automated freight route in the world and is reportedly the first autonomous trucking company to successfully operate cross country in fog and rain.
Staffed by a world-class team of robotics engineers with credentials from the likes of Ford, Google, Uber and Apple, Embark was co-founded by 23 year-old engineering prodigy Alex Rodriguez. In an interview with Forbes, Rodriguez explained that Embark’s trucks are designed “specifically for highways, which is what differentiates what we’re doing. We’re able to build a system that’s a lot simpler, a lot easier to prove that it’s safe, and then you pass it off to a human for the last bit of the journey.”
Loadsmart and Starsky Robotics
Last Thursday, digital freight broker Loadsmart and autonomous truck startup Starsky Robotics announced that they had collaborated to successfully pass another milestone along the road to mass adoption of self-driving semis.
The two companies were able to automatically dispatch an autonomous truck to haul freight; having successfully priced, tendered and booked via Loadsmart and then picked up and delivered the shipment using Starsky's self-driving technology. The integration of Loadsmart's AI-powered pricing and load matching technology with Starsky's API meant no human intervention was required.
"Today, for the first time ever, the advances that seem obvious for the ride-sharing services are coming to trucking," said Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, CEO and founder of Starsky Robotics. "It's not uncommon for a traditional trucking company to have 5 full-time employees involved in dispatching each truck for each load. By integrating e-brokers like Loadsmart, we are eliminating all back office human intervention and making the shipment process seamless, while focusing on ensuring the safety of driverless trucks. With Starsky's Hutch API, which was also announced today, we will be able to autonomously dispatch autonomous loads on a regular basis."
Ricardo Salgado, CEO, Loadsmart, said, "Autonomous vehicles play an integral role in our vision of delivering end-to-end automated shipping and logistics services. Starsky is one of the leading developers of autonomous trucking technology and given our belief that autonomous trucks will provide great value; the team will help us be at the forefront of providing our clients with access to cutting edge technology so they can advance their supply chain."
Intelliwave SiteSense boosts APTIM material tracking
“We’ve been engaged with the APTIM team since early 2019 providing SiteSense, our mobile construction SaaS solution, for their maintenance and construction projects, allowing them to track materials and equipment, and manage inventory.
We have been working with the APTIM team to standardize material tracking processes and procedures, ultimately with the goal of reducing the amount of time spent looking for materials. Industry studies show that better management of materials can lead to a 16% increase in craft labour productivity.
Everyone knows construction is one of the oldest industries but it’s one of the least tech driven comparatively. About 95% of Engineering and Construction data captured goes unused, 13% of working hours are spent looking for data and around 30% of companies have applications that don’t integrate.
With APTIM, we’re looking at early risk detection, through predictive analysis and forecasting of material constraints, integrating with the ecosystem of software platforms and reporting on real-time data with a ‘field-first’ focus – through initiatives like the Digital Foreman. The APTIM team has seen great wins in the field, utilising bar-code technology, to check in thousands of material items quickly compared to manual methods.
There are three key areas when it comes to successful Materials Management in the software sector – culture, technology, and vendor engagement.
Given the state of world affairs, access to data needs to be off site via the cloud to support remote working conditions, providing a ‘single source of truth’ accessed by many parties; the tech sector is always growing, so companies need faster and more reliable access to this cloud data; digital supply chain initiatives engage vendors a lot earlier in the process to drive collaboration and to engage with their clients, which gives more assurance as there is more emphasis on automating data capture.
It’s been a challenging period with the pandemic, particularly for the supply chain. Look what happened in the Suez Canal – things can suddenly impact material costs and availability, and you really have to be more efficient to survive and succeed. Virtual system access can solve some issues and you need to look at data access in a wider net.
Solving problems comes down to better visibility, and proactively solving issues with vendors and enabling construction teams to execute their work. The biggest cause of delays is not being able to provide teams with what they need.
On average 2% of materials are lost or re-ordered, which only factors in the material cost, what is not captured is the duplicated effort of procurement, vendor and shipping costs, all of which have an environmental impact.
As things start to stabilise, APTIM continues to utilize SiteSense to boost efficiencies and solve productivity issues proactively. Integrating with 3D/4D modelling is just the precipice of what we can do. Access to data can help you firm up bids to win work, to make better cost estimates, and AI and ML are the next phase, providing an eco-system of tools.
A key focus for Intelliwave and APTIM is to increase the availability of data, whether it’s creating a data warehouse for visualisations or increasing integrations to provide additional value. We want to move to a more of an enterprise usage phase – up to now it’s been project based – so more people can access data in real time.