Truck Tech • October 23, 2019 • by Jack Roberts
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A few short years ago, I used to give a presentation on the wave of disruptive technology that was just beginning to stir up the trucking industry. My Big Finish slide was a shot of the then-new-and-mind-blowing Amazon delivery drone– to make the point that while many fleets were struggling to find drivers, tech companies like Amazon were testing flying robots to see if they could one day deliver packages.
Well, it looks like that one day is here.
A slew of news stories over the past few weeks have made it clear that drones are getting very close to operational deployment in introductory areas. UPS and FedEx have been particularly aggressive in getting their respective drone programs up to speed – which makes sense. They are the two companies that would benefit immediately from drone deliveries.
And while we haven’t heard much from Amazon lately on the drone front, ZF is working on a delivery system of its own, and a company called Alphabet’s Wing claims to have beat everyone else to the punch, launching the first commercial drone delivery service in the U.S. on Oct. 19th.
In the short term, these developments aren’t going to change much for most of us. In fact, I’d guess most of us are still several years away from seeing our first drone delivery in person.
As crazy as flying robots dropping packages off on your doorstep sounds, the real take-away here is much more profound: The fact that we’ve gone from delivery drones being a far-fetched concept used in presentations about technology five or six years ago to reality is a stark confirmation that change is coming with stunning swiftness. And the only thing you can do in the face of these technological onslaught is to accept it and make it work for you.
Even more important than that, I think, is the reality that the pace of change has accelerated far beyond what most of us think of as normal. I’m often asked when I think autonomous trucks will become a common sight. And people are shocked when I tell them it could happen in as soon as five years – with 10 years being a more reasonable assumption. Most people I know who cover this industry tend to say 25 to 50 years – if it ever happens at all.
But my personal conviction is that the rate of technological advancement has accelerated to such a point that the trucking industry – perhaps society as a whole – may be significantly transformed in ways we are only just beginning to envision in as little as a decade. And I’m hardly alone in making that assumption. The stark reality now is that things are happening fast. And they’re getting faster at an exponential rate every 12 to 18 months.
Maybe you find this to be depressing. We are, after all, quickly moving into areas with many unknowns. Just this morning, Google announced that its engineers have unlocked the secrets to quantum computing. Moreover, Google believes these unfathomably fast and powerful supercomputers could be in common usage in as little as five years. And that means that the already-frenetic fast pace of disruption and change we’re dealing with will basically jump into hyperspace.
So, on the one hand, I’m feeling pretty good about my five-to-ten-year prediction for autonomous trucks. But, on the other hand, some experts are saying that quantum computers could pose the single greatest existential threat to mankind in history – worse than nuclear weapons, even. And that is, you know, kind of a buzz kill.
But one thing is for certain – we’re not going to put the technological toothpaste back into the proverbial tube any time soon. A whole new world is coming at us fast. And opting out of it is simply not going to be an option