The race to field autonomous trucks has started to intensify. There are many startup companies vying for millions of dollars in research funding to make the dream of autonomous 18-wheelers a reality. With the United States freight market estimated to generate approximately 700 billion dollars annually, the competition to get the first autonomous trucks onto our nation’s highways is fierce. But truck accident lawyers fear this race to be first will come at the expense of safety.
Developing the Technology
A San Francisco based company by the name of Otto is developing driverless technology for their trucks. In 2018, one of their autonomous prototypes made a successful 120-mile journey in Colorado between Fort Collins and Denver. Otto’s proprietary driverless system has a micro-super computer that currently carries a hefty price tag of $100,000 per unit, although there are aspirations to lower the cost of the driverless system to around $10,000 per unit as demand increases and governmental policies allow driverless technology to expand onto public roadways.
Other Key Developers of Autonomous Technology
There are many companies all over the world who are in the process of developing autonomous trucking technology. Some of these companies are listed below:
- Peloton Technology. Peloton Technology has a platform under development called V2V Tech, which enables the autonomous truck to react to the actions of the vehicle in front of its path.
- The Embark Company has developed a highway auto-pilot system that uses sensors, radar, and cameras to guide the driverless truck to its destination.
- Einride is a Swedish company that is currently developing an automated electric truck that can be operated remotely or driven autonomously.
- Volvo has been in the autonomous trucking development business since the inception. In 2017, Volvo unveiled an autonomous garbage collection truck and claim they have autonomous trucks used in underground mines.
- Kodiak Robotics. This company is reportedly running automated truck deliveries between Dallas and Houston in Texas.
Are Autonomous Trucks Going to be Safer?
The idea of a vehicle cruising down the highway with no one at the wheel is a frightening concept, especially if it is an 18-wheeler. The trucking industry has historically lagged behind everyone else when it comes to truck safety technology. Because truck accidents cause between 4,000 and 5,000 deaths annually at present, one must take pause when talking about driverless vehicles. But it is interesting to note that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has found in studies that human error may account for up to 94% of all large truck and bus accidents. A computer-driver truck does not need no doze, coffee, nor stretching breaks to complete a long haul without falling asleep. A computer cannot be distracted by a cell phone nor blinded by the sun. A computer also cannot ignore programmed driving rules or laws. Thus, one can also see how an accurately programmed computer might be safer than a human driver. In the end, we will just have to wait and see how accurate the programming is. Society has obviously been allowing of a high level of human error in trucking accidents, will we be as forgiving if we see the same level of computer error?
Christopher K. Fletcher is a trial attorney and Shareholder at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. He has been practicing law since 2009. Chris was named a Rising Star by Thompson-Reuters in 2020. He has been named as one of the Top 40 Under 40 attorneys by the National Trial Lawyers from 2017 through 2020, He was also named one of Houston’s Top Lawyers by H-Texas Magazine in 2020. He attended Baylor University School of Law and graduated with a special concentration in Civil Litigation. Since then, he has dedicated his career to representing personal injury victims.