Google Driverless Car

Is Technology Taking the Human Element Out of Transportation?

Rapidly evolving and more readily available technology has created something of a second industrial revolution over the last thirty years or so. The transportation industry certainly hasn’t been immune to the changes created by these technological advances. The question now is, is the industry setting up to remove the human element from transportation jobs?

The advent of self-driving cars is a significant development in the industry. Though auto pilot has been a tool used in the aviation sector for nearly a century, the idea of functional, self-driving vehicles brings about questions; questions like how long will truck drivers, conductors, and boat captains be a necessary component (or, at the very least, if their physical presence shall remain necessary if they can guide the vehicle from afar) in supply chain management over the roads, rails, and seas. How soon will the railway, maritime, and aviation sectors see advancement like the trucking industry has, with drone-operated trucks becoming a reality? These trucks are set up to be human-operated on city streets, but piloted by drones using GPS tracking in order to allow the trucks to closely follow one another safely to improve fuel mileage.

The idea of these new technologies seems like something out of the ‘Back to the Future’ films, but more practical. In using technology in the transportation industry to improve outcomes, we are actually ensuring the future. With increasingly stringent environmental impact regulations set to swamp the industry in the coming years, advancements are providing transportation companies world-wide with the opportunity to be compliant before it is required. Finding ways to improve fuel mileage and decrease carbon footprints across the industry is crucial. In order to survive, our businesses must grow and change.

Dispatching and load management have also been taken over by specially developed software in order to be more efficient. In my own company, dispatching is well on its way to being operated mostly by an optimization system and simply approved after the fact by load managers to increase driver productivity, improve service to our stores, and provide precision load timing. In developing a system that can reduce empty miles, plan loads well in advance, and maximize a driver’s 70 hour work week, the company saves money, time, and resources. Despite increasing system effectiveness, there haven’t even been rumors of decreasing the pool of support staff on hand. In fact, the company has hired an entire team to develop the new software system, address any problems with it, and ensure its effectiveness long-term.

This tells me that the new technologies being employed throughout the industry will still require people to operate them, at least for the time being. It seems like these ground-breaking technological advancements are geared more towards keeping people safe (like OnGuard collision prevention systems), increasing compliance with industry regulations (electronic logging requirements for the U.S. DOT), improving efficiency, and decreasing environmental impact (like this electric truck prototype developed by a leading global retailer). Despite the supremely advanced technology being developed across all sectors of the transportation industry, people are still the driving force behind supply chain management and movement. These new gadgets simply serve to make us in the industry more effective in our jobs.

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