2015 Transportation Recap – New Technology

2015 was a busy year for the transportation industry. There was new technology, new ideas, and new changes in legislation. All of these new things are carrying over into 2016, so they are worth reviewing.

Technology – Technology is always the most exciting aspect of transportation, and last year was no exception. In conjunction with Auburn University, Peloton Technology tested truck platooning, where one truck follows closely behind another using vehicle-to-vehicle communication, collision avoidance, cruise control and radar. The perceived benefit of this technology is fuel economy. During testing, the lead truck gained about 5% fuel efficiency and the following truck’s fuel efficiency increased about 10%. This technology would be most useful on highways where trucks can travel at an accelerated rate, but it does not negate the need for a second driver. And while companies with multiple trucks showed an interest in platooning with their own trucks, owner-operators were less receptive to the idea.

Another flashy new technology tested in 2015 was the driverless truck by Daimler. Their Freightliner Inspiration took to the highway in Nevada to prove what it could do. Proponents say driverless trucks could reduce the number of truck-related fatalities by removing the human error factor and could ultimately ease the driver shortage that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. However, contrary to how it’s being billed, Inspiration is not really driverless. A driver must still be on board to handle everything except basic, weather-free highway miles. If the truck encounters something it doesn’t know how to handle, it notifies the driver. If the driver doesn’t respond fast enough, the truck automatically slows and eventually comes to a stop until the driver tells it how to proceed. I’m sure this technology will continue to be tested and improved, but it won’t factor into logistics in the upcoming year, or most likely in the next couple decades.

Ideas – Uber for car riders has been incredibly successful, so it isn’t surprising that innovators decided it would be good for the trucking industry too. Like the driverless truck, this innovation is supposed to reduce the need for people, but this time it is freight brokers who would be eliminated. At first glance, this seems like a great solution for sporadic shippers who don’t have a need for their own transportation department. But in reality, these shippers are the ones who could benefit from the expertise of a freight broker the most, because they aren’t familiar with the industry.

Perhaps the biggest negative to this model was pointed out by David Roush of KSM Transport Advisors in Transport Topics: “Hiring a truck is not the same as hiring a cab. It is a different type of transaction. For starters, businesses live and die on their ability to move their products, so there is tremendous risk involved with freight transportation.” If you call Uber and they don’t show up, or the car breaks down in transit, it’s an inconvenience. If you have a truck that doesn’t show up or breaks down, it can destroy your business if you don’t have quick access to another qualified driver.

The above are all interesting innovations that I’m sure will continue to progress in 2016, but none of them are going to overtake the logistics industry any time soon. In my next article, I’ll be talking about some of the rules and regulations changes that occurred last year and what effect they are having now and will have throughout 2016.