Imagining the future of the vast trucking industry that will become autonomous in the coming years.
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Video by Bryce Plank and Robin West.

More information on this topic:
The future of trucking:
Tesla's electric truck:
Truckers discuss the future of trucking:

The semi-truck. Our modern lives are completely dependent on them. Look around you. Every object you see probably traveled on at least one big rig. Here in America, truckers make up 2% of the workforce. But with multiple game-changing technologies converging simultaneously — and the relentlessness of the hyper-competitive global marketplace — the industry will be revolutionized within the next two decades.

This is an examination of the future of trucking.

Before we get into the technology that will turn it all upside-down, we must first understand the way this extremely fragmented industry works now. To the numbers! There are about 3 million drivers for 2.5 million trucks in the US. Those trucks are owned by 532,000 carrier companies, but 90% of these fleets have fewer than six trucks—and half of all carriers are single individuals who own and operate their own rig. Then you have the middlemen, the freight brokers. These 13,000 companies play matchmaker between the manufacturers and wholesalers (who are trying to get their goods to market) and the retailers (who make the final sale to the consumer).

Because this industry is so splintered, there aren’t universal software systems tying it all together. In fact, 67% of shippers don’t use software at all and rely solely on paper records—in 2017!

This creates tremendous inefficiency. When every piece of information has to be communicated through human interactions, drivers are frequently forced to wait hours to book or pick-up a load. And sometimes they just don’t, an estimated 20% of trucks on the road are empty.

To solve these problems, investors are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on startups competing to develop the silver bullet, a software layer that can be used by every segment of the industry.

Another area ripe for modernization is how trucks are powered. Today, medium and heavy duty trucks account for 6% of the greenhouse gas emissions produced in America.

To their credit, companies like Walmart are looking to transition to fleets powered by cleaner natural gas, the bridge fuel America has embraced to transition to renewables.

That’s where Tesla comes in. Elon Musk, CEO of the electric car manufacturer, plans to unveil an electric-powered semi-truck in the next six months.

Battery range will be the biggest obstacle to the widespread adoption of electric trucks as Tesla’s pack will probably only have a 200-300 mile range. The other challenge will be having enough charging stations — and enough power available at each station — to support fleets of Tesla trucks.

The Nikola One attempts to overcome these limitations. This gorgeous, hydrogen fuel cell truck will have a range up to 1,200 miles. The young company plans to begin leasing their trucks by 2020 for about $6,000 a month — including the cost of fuel — but it will first need to build a network of about 400 charging stations throughout the country.

Cutting the emissions of semi-trucks is great for the environment, but the real cost-saving opportunity lies in cutting out the drivers.

It’s been more than a year now since six convoys of semi-autonomous “smart” trucks arrived at the Netherlands port city of Rotterdam after leaving factories from as far away as Sweden and Southern Germany.

That experiment relied on a system called platooning, a semi-autonomous feature allowing trucks to find each other, link up, and draft to cut down on wind drag, saving energy—just like in NASCAR or the Tour de France.

And in October, a self-driving truck completed the first commercial shipment by an autonomous vehicle, delivering a load of Budweiser more than 120 miles across Colorado. A human got the truck on the highway and engaged the autonomous system, then climbed out of the driver’s seat. That truck was made by Otto motors, which was recently acquired by Uber.

And dozens of massive, 240-ton trucks are already being used in Australian mines.

So that’s the near-future we’ll see in the next 10 years: fleets of driverless trucks. Some will be designed to be autonomous, while others will have the system installed later. Many will be electric, and nearly all will be connected to efficient networks that are not slowed down by frequent human input.


    • Ronald Dominguez
      Ronald Dominguez

      Next is robo cop lol

      about 12 hours ago
    • Karen Ray
      Karen Ray

      Are you all crazy, when they cut out the trucker you just cut the throat of everyone . Machines have no feelings ,no SOUL. It takes a special person to drive those rigs, my husband was a trucker . This country would be a sorry place without them . Humans have what machines don't good or bad it's something that can't be put in one word but WE know it and feel it . And anyway who's going to blow that beautiful air horn?

      about 16 hours ago
    • john haley
      john haley

      More loss of jobs do to technology awesome

      about 22 hours ago

      This will not ever work watch what i tell you. If it do work if people don’t have jobs and no money the world will be at war it will be more crime people will kill for food on top of that it’s not enough police or guns that will stop people.

      about 22 hours ago
    • Filipino Bus Enthusiast
      Filipino Bus Enthusiast

      The system is taking human jobs & putting truck drivers out of work.

      about 1 day ago
    • Flying Dog
      Flying Dog In reply to Filipino Bus Enthusiast

      Machines have been replacing humans since 1734.

      about 16 hours ago
    • Filipino Bus Enthusiast
      Filipino Bus Enthusiast

      Those long nose trucks have the same wheel base length as the cargo trucks here in Asia.
      Eastern trucks are better than western trucks.

      about 1 day ago
    • poetprince

      Tell u why it wont happen bc most truckers is good ole whitey. Whitey wont b able to drive anymore so wheres the reparations money for blacks gona come from ??

      about 1 day ago
    • Smith

      Unmanned trucks will become the new way to transport.. you can't fight it. The unmanned trucks will almost double there profits... and money is everything to these big companies..

      about 1 day ago
    • johnnyhun1

      do you remember the 3d area? Everyone was so hyped, the industry was pushing it like crazy everybody said its the future, and now nobody cares about even TV manufacturers doesnt produce tvs with 3d feature ... Same as Virtual Reality (oculus rift, htc ...), and same as automotive trucking will be

      about 1 day ago
    • Dakota Blessing
      Dakota Blessing


      about 1 day ago
    • locnes761

      2019 and still nothing from Mask, the is brilliant at scamming money out of investors.

      about 1 day ago
    • Knight-Time

      It’s like using YouTube to understand what it’s like in prison.

      about 1 day ago
    • Shane Johnson
      Shane Johnson

      I'm all for clean green and standard systems of operations however I have been in 2 industries that went automated. This has been devistating to communities and individuals and I have yet to see the cost and productivity savings passed onto consumers. Thus far it only benefits those who are already filthy rich. This world is in big big trouble

      about 2 days ago
    • M Mullineaux
      M Mullineaux

      Why does the voice-over speaker argue with the quoted subject-matter experts?

      about 2 days ago
    • blaakhawk

      The world will come to a end when this technology take over. When everything go robot nobody working it will be riots and starvation. Who is going to be buying products?

      about 2 days ago
    • Meguel Riddle
      Meguel Riddle

      That sucks

      about 2 days ago
    • Jason Conover
      Jason Conover

      We have a very foolish younger generation spouting hopeful wishes out of ignorance.

      about 3 days ago
    • Jason Conover
      Jason Conover

      The narrator is displaying one sided arguments.

      about 3 days ago
    • youngbeechnut78

      Looks like humanity slowly is steering its way to self destruction and replacement by machines. Reminds me of movie Terminator.

      about 3 days ago
    • blaakhawk
      blaakhawk In reply to youngbeechnut78

      You are right this society will collapse when this technology take over.

      about 2 days ago
    • Black Cracka
      Black Cracka

      When we have pilot less aircraft, THEN we'll have driverless trucking.

      about 4 days ago
    • Flying Dog
      Flying Dog In reply to Black Cracka

      We have pilotless aircraft. What rock have you been hiding under? MORON

      about 16 hours ago
    • Duncan McLore
      Duncan McLore

      While I find the idea of driverless or autonomous vehicles fascinating I can't help but see the dystopia of all this we are not "geared" to be a sentient race that lives solely leisure. I believe that if we allow for a utopian as described in this video we will find ourselve the victim of an ever expandinggap between those who are truly in power and those who will become superfluous.

      about 4 days ago
    • Sam D'Amico
      Sam D'Amico

      Elon musk is more well off than is truckers already with his automobiles, but that’s not enough for him now he wants to put us out of work and affect our families. What a POS

      about 4 days ago
    • jabberwolf

      Jobs wont be lost as autonomous containers cant navigate cities and small towns. It will be a hybrid of long highways autonomous and humans for cities. Also humans will need to be there to service the machines.

      about 5 days ago
    • Justin

      income inequality is a good thing

      about 5 days ago
    • Darryl Wright
      Darryl Wright

      Talk about fantasy. The real world is analog not digital. The computer can't handle it.

      about 5 days ago
    • Black Rifle Coffee
      Black Rifle Coffee

      Stopped at Tesla - what a con man Elon Musk is. Have a downvote.

      about 5 days ago
    • Mike B
      Mike B

      Have no fear! Make a plan. Buy a farm if you can!

      about 5 days ago
    • Cloud by Day Fire by Night
      Cloud by Day Fire by Night

      Bad idea

      about 5 days ago
    • Raymond Serpa
      Raymond Serpa

      The problem that is almost impossible to overcome,is how other traffic interacts with all kinds of moving obsticles on the roads with cars!People will not give up their cars easily!and they must give them up for autonomous vehicles to be safe!It is tricky predicting the future(the Jetsons).It is nice to see child like optimism,but the technology is in it's infancy!In twenty years or so autonomous vehicles may be readily available,but for people to accept and adapt:probably 50 years+!Unless something drastic occurs!

      about 5 days ago
    • Johnny D
      Johnny D

      Can we please stop with the Green House Gases thing..? I mean its not even global warming anymore. We all know its not real.

      about 6 days ago