Startup Says Self-Driving Trucks Will Require New Labor Force

Photo Credit: Eric Risberg/AP/Shutterstock
June 17, 2019
7h ago

By Rebecca Heilweil

While many industries are anxious that new technologies could exacerbate job displacement, one self-driving truck startup is hoping automation will attract newer, younger workers to its field.

Founded in 2015, San Diego-based TuSimple is intent not only on developing the technology that autonomous trucks will need to navigate but also training the auxiliary human workers that these vehicles will require.

Trucking faces a mounting labor crisis. The profession’s turnover rates have hit an all-time high in recent years, and the industry’s labor shortage could exceed 170,000 drivers by 2024, according to a 2015 study from the American Trucking Associations.

Currently, there are more than 1.8 million heavy truck and tractor truck drivers, and more than 1.4 million delivery truck drivers, in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Part of TuSimple’s efforts involve a first-of-its-kind certificate in autonomous truck management co-created with Pima Community College in Arizona.

The program, which will begin its first classes this fall, is meant for those who are already certified commercial truck drivers and will instruct its students in remote truck navigation and how to serve as a test driver for training autonomous trucks’ artificial intelligence.

Drivers who receive the certificate will receive preferential hiring at TuSimple.

“We really think this is an opportunity to upskill truck driving and bring tech into it,” Robert Brown, the head of government relations and public affairs at TuSimple, told Cheddar.

“There’s a lot of limiting factors that technology can’t do. It can’t go into urban areas, it can’t do customer service, [it can’t do] certain rescue operations,” Brown explained. “There’s a lot of new jobs being created every day, not just by TuSimple but by the whole sector.”

TuSimple and Pima Community College plan to help other schools offer similar certificate programs in the future.

In addition to its program with Pima Community College, TuSimple recently piloted a program with the U.S. Post Office, using autonomous, mail delivery trucks traveling between Phoenix and Dallas.

The company is now evaluating the results of that test, which lasted two weeks.

Crunchbase reported that TuSimple has raised nearly $200 million to date.

But the company isn’t alone. Its competitors include the German automotive giant Daimler and the California-startup Udelv, which are both working on self-driving delivery vehicles.

Tesla ($TSLA) too has thrown its hat into the self-driving truck arena, with plans for a fully autonomous electric semi that Elon Musk announced in late 2017. The company is currently taking reservations for that vehicle.

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