Alex Botta is one of the reasons why the Comment sections on Price Tags are consistently worth reading: thoughtful, researched and original. (And he’s not the only one.)
Here’s his latest – a comment on Counterintuition: Automation, cars and jobs – that’s worth reprinting as a separate post:
I haven’t read a cogent argument yet that provides sufficient evidence that AVs will change cities and shift transportation paradigms radically. Conjecture is not bankable when it comes to long-range urban planning.
Now it’s trucks. I wonder how many researchers actually talked to truckers, or better yet, ridden with them through varying driving conditions? A long-distance trucker cousin once regaled several of us for hours about his lifetime of experience. On one day he would deliver freight to warehouses in LA, the next to Dallas, the next Toronto.
A few things stand out as very difficult to manage with this guessing game on automated / autonomous trucks. First is shifting cargo. Transporting liquids by truck (fuel, milk, water …) is very tricky on curves at speed and takes special skill to manage. Beef is another, because carcasses are hung on hooks and swing in the opposite direction to the line of travel on a curve. When you here a trucker talking about swingin’ beef, this is what s/he is referring to.
Another element not on the AV radar for trucks is wind, specifically crosswind. The side of a long trailer presents a massive “sail” for the wind to play with. Large trailers with light loads (e.g. potato chips) or empty trailers are especially susceptible to being blown over.
Still another big concern is theft of freight. Most long-distance truckers live in their rigs while on the road, which can actually be very well appointed with audio visual equipment, comfy beds, lots of storage and so forth. The driver often stays with the truck at or near their destination if they arrive after hours and cannot dock and unload until the next day. Thieves often work in organized gangs and target high-value loads, such as frozen prepackaged meat or electronics, and are usually deterred by the presence of the driver. Sometimes not! Now and again a truck driver can be held at gunpoint while the most expensive items are off-loaded, or the truck is stolen outright leaving the driver in a god forsaken industrial warehouse complex in the middle of the night.
There is just no way all of the above situations could be preprogrammed into an autonomous truck. I believe electric vehicles will have a far greater impact on cities and demand for oil sooner, and there is a lot of data and media information out there to back that up.
Back to trucking, I urged my cousin to write a short book on his 40 years of trucking all over the continent. I felt his stories were fascinating enough to foster good sales, especially in places where country music is played night and day and where big Ram pickup trucks driven by insecure little men dominate the streets.