In 10 Years, Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Trucking, Says Otto Exec

March 27, 2017, 10:23 PM UTC
Uber's self-driving Volvo cars being loaded on an Otto truck.
Courtesy: Uber

Expect artificial intelligence technologies to alter the truck driving industry within the next 10 years. That’s according to Lior Ron, the cofounder of self-driving truck company Otto, which ride-hailing company Uber bought in August for a reported $680 million.

Ron said Monday that he expects driverless trucks to routinely cruise throughout U.S. freeways in the next decade. He made his comments in San Francisco during a MIT Technology Review conference on artificial intelligence.

Ron’s comments contrast with statements made by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Steve Mnuchin, who said in a recent interview with news outlet Axios that AI will not affect jobs in a meaningful way for roughly 50 to 100 years. Many technologists and analysts perceived Mnuchin’s comments on AI and jobs as uninformed when compared to recent AI advancements that have made it possible for computers to perform several tasks, like recognizing objects in pictures, faster than humans.

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When a moderator asked Ron what the rise of driver-less trucks means for human truck drivers, Ron acknowledged that their jobs would drastically change. However, he stopped short of explicitly saying there would be widespread job loss.

Instead, Ron said that AI technologies would act as a “co-pilot” to truck drivers for the “foreseeable future.” He said that “being a truck driver is not an easy job” and that it requires workers to drive up to 11 hours “just to make end’s meet.”

Ron said that “not a lot of people” want to be truck drivers and there is a national shortage of available trucking jobs. He believes that his company’s technology will make it possible for trucks to travel for many hours in a safer way than humans.

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“Look, some portions of driving will be fully automated,” Ron said referring to the idea of self-driving trucks on freeways and highways. However, he said that there would still be a need for human truck drivers who need to steer the trucks when they drive through cities.

City streets pose a more difficult challenge for self-driving vehicles as they deal with more variables like pedestrians, stoplights, and intersections. He said that the “nature of the jobs will shift,” so that truck drivers would spend more time driving the trucks to their destinations in cities instead of long hours on freeways.

Still, Ron did not mention that Otto’s parent company Uber is actively working on self-driving cars that can drive throughout cities without the need for humans. If Uber were to eventually create autonomous vehicles that can drive safely in cities, there would be less of a need for human truck drivers to have to drive the vehicles in cities.

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It should be noted that Uber has suspended test driving of its autonomous vehicles in Arizona after an accident occurred last Friday that left one of its test cars tipped over onto its side.

In February, a new self-driving truck startup Starsky Robotics debuted with technology that the company said would let truck drivers remotely control self-driving trucks when they have to drive through cities.

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