Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently unveiled his latest innovation and simultaneously the electric vehicle manufacturer’s first foray into the commercial vehicle market. The Tesla Semi is an electric, semi-autonomous truck that Musk says will be able to travel 500 miles fully loaded on a single charge. Although Tesla isn’t the only company working on electric trucks, the company has certainly once again electrified the industry. Everyone’s talking about it.
But the conversation isn’t new. Earlier this year, the International Transport Forum (ITF) published a report that looks at how a transition to driverless road freight transport could happen. The study makes recommendations to help governments manage potential disruption and ensure a just transition for affected drivers. The main takeaway: Although automated road freight will save costs, reduce emissions, and make roads safer, the impact on driver jobs requires a managed transition. In short: we need to be thinking about an autonomous future now.
The future begins now
Semi-trucks controlled entirely by artificial intelligence (AI) may be a long way off, but companies managing large vehicle fleets cannot ignore advances in technology and the impact they might have. Logistics industry players certainly need to prepare for a future more reliant upon autonomous vehicles. Failure to plan for this eventual inevitability will be a costly mistake.
That’s because the future has already begun. Take, for example, the 120-mile driverless “beer run” conducted by Anheuser-Busch in 2016 between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, Colorado. That venture down Interstate 25 was entered into the Guinness World Records for the longest continuous journey by a driverless and autonomous semi-truck. Despite the historic feat, Lior Ron, co-founder of Otto, the subsidiary of Uber developing the self-driving truck technology that powered the ride, said that for now AI technologies would merely act as truck driver “co-pilots.”
DHL is due to start testing several autonomous delivery vehicles in 2018, including our own electric delivery vehicle, the DHL StreetScooter. This has been made possible by our cooperation with AI computing company NVIDIA and ZF, one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers.
In addition, we have just placed an order for ten Tesla Electric Class 8 Semi Trucks, making us one of the first third-party logistics (3PL) companies to do so. Our DHL Supply Chain will purchase and test the trucks, which will be available in 2019, at its customer operations in major U.S. metro areas. The trucks will be used for shuttle deliveries and same-day customer deliveries, and will be tested for mileage efficiency on longer runs from major markets to other DHL operations across the country.