The Autonomous Future of Trucking

Robots promise immense power to improve long-haul trucking and the associated business supply chains, by increasing the speed, safety, efficiency and cost of how goods are transported. But at what cost?

Snapshot Insights

Snapshot Insights,

For better or worse, the very definition of a “driver” is set to be upended, along with all associated professions. To help leaders navigate the road ahead, Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work set out to study the factors enabling autonomous vehicle technology in the long-haul trucking sector and the impact its deployment will have. 

We’ve identified the following key insights for organizations in the path of trucking automation to consider:

  • Full implementation of automation technology in trucking could reduce operating costs and double productivity. Total compensation for drivers accounts for three-quarters of the costs associated with ground shipping. Without the restrictions of human drivers for sleep and rest, AI-powered trucks could travel twice as far per day, adding much more value to the supply chain of perishable and high-turnover goods. 
  • The future has already arrived for autonomous driving. Alphabet subsidiary Waymo, General Motors and several other competitors have successfully tested prototypes in the race to fully self-driving vehicles. First movers have leapt into the mainstream, with pilot programs in cities across the globe. 
  • The jury is out on how many will be sent to the unemployment line. Removing drivers from long-haul truck cabs may eliminate those jobs altogether or lead to more convenient local jobs through short-haul driving or remotely operating autonomous vehicles.
  • Three-part harmony is urgently needed for policies, standards and regulations. So far, cohesive public policy frameworks are trailing behind. Regulations focused on self-driving vehicles vary widely by jurisdiction, especially for freight hauling. We expect to see federal legislators partner with interdisciplinary teams to harmonize the concerns of the voting public and the business community to establish nationwide rules of the road. 
  • Autonomous truck hacking is a matter of national security. While this threat already exists for any vehicle that’s digitally enabled, connected trucks introduce even more vulnerabilities for widespread cyber-attacks, ranging from weaponizing the vehicles to disabling them to stifle economies. As a good highway warning sign might say: “Hacking on road ahead – proceed with caution.”

In many respects, autonomous trucking also represents a canary-in-the-coal-mine for jobs in other industries, posing a good opportunity for business leaders, technology strategists and public policy proponents to assess how to successfully manage the transition. The fate of the industry is likely to serve as a template for other fields as AI continues its inevitable progress. Download the white paper No Hands: The Autonomous Future of Trucking below to learn more.