Tesla recently forayed into the truck manufacturing business, with the fully electric, trailer-agnostic, and mid-to-long haul range truck – The “Semi”. Along with the usual fanfare, it also boasts of a centrally aligned “Race Car” cockpit, and has semi-autonomous capabilities. Being a Tesla product, it will be able to get fully downloadable capabilities, and essentially be a “software-defined” product.
It has been argued for quite some time, these fleet of electric autonomous vehicles could spell doom for the trucking community, which directly employs close to 1 million people in the US as drivers. This also means that trucks will essentially be robots on wheels with complete control & traceability lying with the fleet owners (just like warehouse robots). Since the logistics & trucking business usually operate in predefined routes with few stoppages (except for refueling & driver fatigue), this presents a stronger case for autonomous driving than autonomous personal cars.
This will further fuel the arms race with existing truck manufacturers like Daimler, Scania and Volvo to launch their own versions of autonomous electric trucks to the market. So essentially, the truck fleet companies will soon become data companies and operate just like the Air Traffic Controllers, with numerous commercial aircrafts trying to land and take off ( mostly without any incidents) from busy hubs. This calls for an action to ramp-up the digital quotient of these fleet companies to unprecedented levels, and also for the road safety authorities to define the new rules of co-existence.
Cyber security has to be of utmost priority as malicious hacks can create a havoc, and essentially lock down highways for days together. As we venture into the unknown, the promise of technology also brings forth the responsibility to ensure a holistic end-to-end point of view, rather than product/industry level views. I hope the OEMs, technology companies and governments will come together to create a resilient architecture for the society, rather than sleep walking into a future.