Truck drivers: obsolescence or opportunity?

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As new technologies shift the dynamics of employment in the supply chain, transport managers will have to decide where the real benefits lie, and nowhere is this more apparent than future self-driving vehicles.

The Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025, a self-driving vehicle (SDV) has been revealed in 2014. The Future Truck has all the styling of a retro-future vehicle and it looks remarkably spacious and, interestingly, a single swivel chair for the driver. The vehicles design is capable of reducing the fuel consumption by up to 5% and, more importantly, driving without driver input at some 90 km/h on the highways.

There’s a lot of tech in there to make it work, things like vehicle-to-vehicle communication for better positioning, cameras replacing side-mirrors and in-built navigation system.

No doubt SDVs are a fleet manager’s dream come true, a way to remove the hassle of driver management from the process altogether and simply focus on the hard numbers of fuel consumption and distance travelled.

There’s also been a focus on cutting jobs from the equation. In fact, many studies suggest that a large number of jobs could be replaced by technology in the next 20 years.

We prefer to think that SDVs have the opportunity to uplift drivers, especially when combined with the right tools.

Drivers under the current paradigm are somewhat a wasted resource; a person who essentially serves as the direct contact between your company and your clients in the last kilometre, but their time is largely taken up shifting gears and spinning steering wheels.

We’d like to think that with the introduction of SDV’s, drivers have more time on their hands to become more involved in the planning process.

For instance, companies could have drivers filling out necessary documentation prior to arriving at the client. Drivers could analyse loading capabilities and write up crucial suggestions for speedier delivery. What if your driver was also a sales rep, attempting to drum up new business while on the road, identifying new locations for expansion?

The Future Truck is a long way from real-world application, many traffic regulations would have to be updated to allow it on the roads, massive infrastructure would be required to support the truck’s technology, and it’s unlikely it’d be feasible for at least another 10 years. But there are transportation tools that are available right now that can more tightly incorporate your drivers into your transport processes, giving you real-time control over your schedule and a direct view into your staff members’ actions.

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