Autonomous trucks hit the road: Here’s where they’re going.


Four areas autonomous trucks are already operatiing.

Self-driving truck technology can be used when navigating challenging road conditions.

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By Nathan Forster, Head of Automotive and Transportation at T-Mobile for Business

The national truck driver shortage isn’t a new problem, but the shortfall is growing. In 2018, the American Trucking Association (ATA) reported a shortage of 60,800 drivers. That number has since increased to 80,000 and is now on track to reach 160,000 by 2030.

The overwhelming need for truck drivers has shunted conversations around automation stealing jobs and pushed more transportation and logistics (T&L) operators to test out, invest in, and deploy autonomous and semi-autonomous trucks. Capacity constraints, continued external disruptions, and an aging driver demographic have also contributed to this injection of automation into the supply chain.

“As we move increasingly toward a resource-constrained world, organizations are beginning to engage technology such as driverless trucks to move cargo more freely, cost-effectively, and sustainably,” IDC states in its new Market Perspective report, “When Will We Have Self-Driving Trucks, and What Will It Mean?”

Rising truck driver salaries and the overall labor shortage are also forcing T&L companies to rethink their traditional approaches. Although safety remains a key and valid concern from both a public sentiment and regulatory approval standpoint, autonomous trucking is coming into view. While that scenario is still likely a few years away, the related operations, technology, and safety credentials continue to evolve.


Autonomous operations are already beginning to build momentum in areas where the safety envelope is better understood. Here are some areas where autonomous vehicles are already operating and where we’ll likely see expansion in the coming months and years:

  • Dedicated autonomous lanes: Several highway infrastructure projects have been planned and built to segregate a lane of traffic specific to autonomous vehicles. These solutions provide over-the-road trucking routes that don't intermingle with normal vehicle traffic and provide dedicated lanes that can help keep truck traffic flowing better, even in urban, congested areas.
  • Campus operations and construction sites: Both are generally large, closed, and private sites where autonomous vehicles, including trucks, can take on repetitive routes or tasks that may be hazardous for a human driver to navigate. In many cases, predetermined routes can be used to get goods from point A to point B without human intervention.
  • Low-speed autonomous vehicles: These vehicles generally operate at 15 mph or less, and lower speed equates to less safety concerns. Use cases for low-speed autonomous vehicles include passenger transport, last-mile delivery, and campus operations. 
  • Teleoperations or blended vehicles: A human operates these vehicles from a remote location. Companies can leverage economies of scale with this approach because one operator can remotely pilot multiple vehicles at once. Additionally, blended operations can leverage vehicle autonomy for easy or mundane portions of a route and then switch to a teleoperator to handle more complex situations

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Safe, quick, and efficient.

Motivated by the need to increase capacity across transportation networks, manage the labor shortage, and deal with uncertainties like fluctuating fuel rates, organizations will continue to focus on advancing self-driving truck technology, according to the IDC report. The technology can be used to safely navigate long and straight stretches of open highway and get through regions where mountainous terrain and inclement weather present unique challenges for drivers.

Driverless trucks are on the road today in small numbers. Novel cargo-as-a-service models offered by multiple technology companies make ROI more easily achievable. T&L operators should determine which parts of their organizations would be applicable and where they would benefit from an operating expense (OPEX) model when investing in autonomous vehicles.

T-Mobile has America's largest and fastest 5G network imagined for tomorrow but ready to give you an edge today. At T-Mobile for Business, we’re focused on providing your business with connectivity solutions and dedicated, exceptional service you need to help you stay ahead. To learn more about how T-Mobile is fueling digital transformation for today’s fleets, visit our transportation industry page.

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