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Future Transportation
Trucking Is the Latest Industry to Experience Self Driving Innovation

A California-based software company has a plan to partially automate commercial trucking to allow one driver to pilot two vehicles. Peloton, as the company is aptly called (though one wonders if the name Convoy was already taken), just received $60 million in a second round of funding, and hopes to put its self driving system on the road next year. The WSJ reports:

Peloton’s system allows two trucks traveling front-to-back to be controlled by a driver in the front vehicle, creating what the company calls a platoon system. Trailing the lead vehicle by as little as 30 feet, the second truck uses about 10% less fuel because of reduced wind resistance from the lead truck, Peloton says. […]

Still, Peloton initially envisioned platoons of three or four trucks, with one person operating the front truck while those behind it were entirely driverless. That proved more complicated than planned and regulatory approval could take years. Peloton is focused instead on a two-truck system for highway travel in which each truck would be staffed by a driver who can take over when weather or traffic dictate.

Peloton, based in Mountain View, Calif., wants to introduce the system by 2018. Omnitracs LLC, a provider of remote monitoring systems for truck fleets, led the new funding round.

We’ve seen speculation that self driving cars might bunch together on the highway to reap reductions in drag and thereby increase fuel mileage, but that strategy makes even more sense for long-haul trucking, which has defined routes that allow for coordination between trucks.

There’s also a potential synergy here for trucking companies to exploit: because their routes can be planned ahead of time, autonomous 18-wheelers would make ideal candidates for compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. In this way, our country’s fleet of trucks could gas up on natural gas, and take advantage of the shale boom in the process.

We remain on the cusp of a transportation revolution whose impacts will be felt across industries at a rate and depth that will likely surprise us. This new method of moving people and things from point A to point B (to points C, D, and E, etc…) is going to increase efficiencies and likely produce both cost and environmental savings while increasing quality of life. There’s still so much to work through as these technologies mature that at a certain point it makes sense to sit back and parse these ripple effects as they come, but at a macro level we’re watching a disruptive suite of technologies come rolling in from the horizon, bringing with them the promise of a better way of life.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    Business can have whatever does not expose it to unacceptable liability for mishaps. Commercial insurance is one way to offload risks, but like with the example of the gun industry, we can probably expect government to be asked to provide some kind of limited liability for the owners of self-driving trucks on public roads.

    • Anthony
      • FriendlyGoat

        Thanks. I am glad we are beginning to see more and more professional writers parting way with center-right economic orthodoxy. I have “felt” something wrong with “tax cuts create jobs” since 1978-79-80 (when I was 27-28-29). But, you know? When you’re young and not any kind of expert, it’s easy to say, “Well, those smarter guys must know, and I somehow just am not at their thinking level.” It occurs to me now that millions and millions of people did that too, those like me who were close enough to the subject to at least wonder about it—-and certainly most of those who weren’t.

        Unfortunately, instead of waking up to start reversing the problem, we just decided via an election to make the problem much worse. This author is correct that large numbers are basically going to be disappointed for the rest of their lives—–and that’s not just old people.

        • Anthony

          Well of course, you’re right (and in accordance with author’s theme). Regrettably, people (Americans in this case) choose to believe what is comforting (and self-reinforcing about themselves) and as I’ve shared with you before the “nimbler wits” know as much and operate accordingly.

          Still, I thought the Bloomberg piece echoed much of what you have been plaintively writing here and I wanted to give you some confirming evidence. And, you’re welcome.

          As an aside: when you’re 27-28-29 (unless family experienced in politics/economics), you’re in the world not of it and social forces drive you whether aware or not. Some are lucky and good enough to withstand the whiplashes, most are not, unfortunately. But carry on we must FG.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Though my family was not at all experienced in politics or economics, I was the hired controller in a privately-held company in those years, working basically for a man 40 years older than me who had great interest in his state Chamber of Commerce and other right-wing lobbying arms. He used to like to have someone to discuss these things with, and—-oddly—-I became the person. He seriously would just drop in my office, sit down and start talking about the legislative sessions, the Congress, people he thought were awful like, for instance, Ted Kennedy. OBVIOUSLY, I had to behave myself, but my boss shared all his newsletters and membership publications with me—-several kinds for national, state and industry level stuff.

            I was literally over-exposed to the right-side economic view for the seventeen years he was my boss. This is one reason why I have questioned the whole of it. There is a gap between how big people explain these issues to each other and how they present them to little people. Being a little person who gets to read the big-people blurb is sort of eye-opening.

          • Anthony

            You’ve made me notably aware of your banking and business background through the years (and I’ve paid special attention and value and respect your experience and unique perspective). My cultural example is intended to be general. People 18-28 are experiencing world and world is impacting them generally. So, few are aware of what lies ahead (and even fewer are privileged to those conversation or opportunities you cite) – you are a blessed man (not to have been muddy-minded about both politics and economics while being clear-headed of thought and understanding). Eye opening indeed!

          • FriendlyGoat

            Thanks for kind words. I wish most of today’s young people had the opportunity to be exposed to the economic side of politics as I was from 21 to 42. Most simply don’t get to see business accounting all the way to the owners’ personal affairs as I did. My employers were good guys and they trusted me a LOT with everything. I never betrayed their confidences (both passed away while I was still there)—–but—–even though it was a long time ago, I got tutored in conservatism in ways that most can’t and don’t.

          • Anthony

            The words are earned and you’re welcome. Now, you have been tutored not just in conservatism but tutored also in aspect of real life as engaged in by capitalists. Said experience enriches your interpretation of the ideological forces shaping, specially since the late 1970s, aspects of our political alignment. More specifically, your lens adds measured counterbalance to various misapprehensions about the war on government and American workers as engaged by the Party of No – The Great Right Migration. Equally, the young get opportunities you reference when the generations ahead of them help pave the way (one life at a time).

          • Anthony

            Another issue of concern to you (it’s a long read):

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes, thanks, I have seen other articles on NPV initiative. It’s a hopeful thought that is subject, though, to the same state hazards as the old Equal Rights Amendment, no? The final push is the hard part with lots of red states which may see no reason to do this from their own red points of view.

          • Anthony

            I must admit I am unfamiliar with initiative (until today) but reading about it today struck an interest (albeit modest). Power politics and interests (not to mention general populace inclination to divide) as with ERA would may initiative success dogged. Yet at first sight, it’s an idea worthy of public discussion in all 50 states despite the weighted/expected opposition – form and substance of democracy ( real governance) depends not just only on procedures but also on substantive outputs. The NPV creates consideration of different outputs as well as a different idea in a transitioning epoch (WRM, in another Post, wrote about Revamping the system).

          • FriendlyGoat

            Here’s another one of those “economic” articles which is beginning to beat around a useful bush.

          • Anthony

            Thanks, FG. The reading 9article) brought back many memories (as a matter of fact, I was an econ. student at era’s beginning [1970s]).I read a many HBR reviews, essays, and articles during that time and know from where author writes. The Chicago School (Milton Friedman) influenced a number of economists and aspiring MBAs during that period and HBS seconded the zeitgeist.

            Now, here we are forty years later writing about ethics, commonsense, the broader societal partners – it took 2008 Wow! My cousin has has a saying: Pride, Greed, and Envy get you every time. Again, thanks for excellent article (though it stirred up memories I conveniently put in the unconscious).

  • ——————————

    “we’re watching a disruptive suite of technologies come rolling in from the horizon, bringing with them the promise of a better way of life.”

    Not “better” for all the workers that are displaced…mostly in the name of increased productivity, which helps big industry, and is just another term for ‘more stuff for less’. How much more ‘stuff’ do we need? What we need are jobs.

    Looks like Zager and Evans were right….

    • FriendlyGoat

      They probably were right—–on several levels. But the nature of what could capture the public’s attention in 1969 is now in the rear-view mirror.

    • Jim__L

      Are the Luddites finally right?

      Are we finally at the point where to have jobs anymore, we have to destroy the machines?

      I hope not. I think that would be tragic in many ways. But the fact remains that when unemployment goes up and stays there, or when people start talking about “structural unemployment”, automating everything stops being a good thing and starts being evil.

      The Silicon Valley types who will actually change the world for the better are NOT the ones who are pursuing “disruptive” technologies. We need a break from those. The ones who are going to change the world for the better will be the ones who develop Expansive technologies — the ones that will employ far more than they displace, the ones that have proven the Luddites wrong in the past.

      I’m looking forward to it. =)

      • f1b0nacc1

        For the most part, the disrupters *ARE* the expanders….

        • ——————————

          Not with the technologies coming around the corner. Things are about to get seriously out of hand in the coming years. I am glad I’m self-employed, and in businesses that aren’t affected much by disruptive technology….

          • f1b0nacc1

            I suspect that you have a good point, but I am reminded of such dire predictions numerous times in the past. People have a natural desire to work, and they tend to find new ways to make themselves useful UNLESS outside influences (these days, the welfare state) actively moves to prevent them from doing so.

          • ——————————

            Am not trying to be the Thomas Malthus of labor, so to speak, but if so many jobs become fully-autonomous as they appear to be in the near future, we are now getting into uncharted territory for job destruction. I don’t think that all the jobs supporting the infrastructure for the trucking and auto travel industries that are lost to fully-autonomous vehicles, will be replaced by jobs to build and maintain those systems, nor will it be for all the jobs lost to fully-autonomous checkout at grocery stores either.
            And all this so we can have a “better customer experience and lower prices”…and other corporate verbal diarrhea.

            It’s hard to make yourself “useful” when there’s nothing to do….

          • f1b0nacc1

            As I mention to Jim_L below, I am not arguing that there isn’t a potential problem here, but I am simply not convinced. I do quite a bit of work in robotics, and I can tell you from direct experience that there are a great many completely unskilled tasks that humans not only do better (and cheaper) than robots, but that are quite unlikely to be replaced by robots at any time in the forseeable future. Most service jobs fall into this category, especially those that involve direct contact with other humans. Yes, the business process specialists can come up with a ton of ideas that will displace people (and that is where the real threat it….self-service gas stations did more to reduce employment than any number of robotic innovations, for instance), but people do tend to find new things to do with themselves given time and a lack of governmental interference.

          • ——————————

            I remember when gas stations started self-serve and convenience stores. I think a lot of the gas pumpers became clerks and stockers inside the convenience store, so probably helped off-set the amount of job losses.
            I wonder what the checkout clerks and baggers are going to do when all the stores convert to the system that reads your items and charges you for them as you walk out the door?….

            Maybe this will help convince you.


          • f1b0nacc1

            I have no doubt that some of this is coming, but I also doubt that we will see a wholesale move to the Amazon model. Certainly large grocery stores will find this useful, but these stores have very low employee/sales ratios, which is precisely why they are so competitive (labor is the highest cost) now. Just because we have self-service (or no service) available doesn’t mean that we have seen all competing service models disappear. Much more to the point however, we are likely I think to see the whole ‘clerks and baggers’ model disappear just as we have seen the gas-pumper disappear, yet you concede yourself that those jobs did in fact find their way elsewhere.

            The real question is how much and how far can automation (which reall is robotics + AI + business process improvement, don’t underestimate the impact of this last factor) displace labor or even eliminate labor. So far we haven’t seen this happen, and while certainly it would be foolish to say that it cannot happen, I suspect that it will be far more difficult than a great many believe.

          • ——————————

            Yes the gas pumpers disappeared, but they simply moved inside the stores as they added the convenience part of the business. Luckily for those pumpers, the convenience add-ons came at the same period as the self-serve did. I don’t think all the grocery clerks, baggers, (and potentially stockers, according to the article I provided a link for), will move to another part of the retail business…there isn’t any part to add-on.

            So in this and the other conversation we are having in this thread we both pretty much agree on things, we just have different perspectives that we view them through. I view everything through basic human nature. Everything we do and think is because of it…it is the tail that wags the dog.
            Greed is one of the ‘basic’ things that drives us to achieve, for example.

            Humans are not as aristocratic in the animal world as we like to think…nothing has changed for thousands of years…no matter how much technology and education we surround ourselves with…

        • Jim__L

          No. No, they’re not.

          That’s the problem.

          They’re busy disrupting, and don’t bother expanding. And that’s why we’re in the predicament we’re in.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Not to sound like a ‘No True Scotsman’ type, but a lot of those that claim they are ‘disrupting’ (Zuckerberg comes immediately to mind) aren’t actually very disruptive, they are simply opportunists. I am referring primarily to the robotics world (and to a lesser extent the data world, which I am most familiar with) where we do see real expansion as old jobs are eliminated.

            Either way, I don’t deny that we need to be concerned about the problem, but I am simply not convinced (yet) that it is quite as menacing as it is made out to be. Still, I am willing to be convinced…

      • ——————————

        The problem is that the technologies replace the unskilled, and those without degrees…those who deserve jobs the most. If the disruptive technologies replaced professors, lawyers, and others with college, then I wouldn’t care.

        Not everyone, no matter how high their IQ is, wants to go to college….

        • f1b0nacc1

          Well, I am not sure who ‘deserves’ jobs the most. As a dedicated free-marketer, I would argue that those who provide value deserve jobs, but that is a different argument, to be sure.

          Regarding college, if you have read much of me here online, you will know that I am not a big fan of college for everyone, which I think is unnecessary and undesirable…

          • ——————————

            I am aware of your stance regarding education.

            Yes, those who provide value do deserve jobs, and those who take out more from society than they put in are nothing but oxygen thieves. But the the monetary value of peoples “value” is way too out of wack now, between the degreed and non-degreed.
            Those without degrees deserve the jobs the most because they have the least opportunities (as forced upon them by all this academic nonsense society has created). Why should lawyers, architects, engineers, etc., etc., get hundreds of dollars per hour (often most of the work is done by assistants who don’t have a degree), but someone without a degree could perform the same task and have to charge much less, or is legally unable to perform it even if they could?
            I am also free-market guy, but not totally free. Humans have little self-control (greed is a powerful emotion), and need to be regulated. Too much freedom in the markets causes evermore money to be funneled to the top from those on the bottom….

          • f1b0nacc1

            Actually we are saying the same thing. I am strongly opposed to governments interfering with markets (through licensing requirements, for instance) and preventing capable individuals from doing work that they wish to do. I don’t dispute that this is often the case today (and if you have followed my attempts to reason with FG, you will note that I have in fact raised this very issue several times), and it should be done away with as a matter of high priority.

            I don’t share your interest in regulation to as a counter to greed, though I do understand the need for SOME regulation, primarily to preserve the working of markets. Enforcing contracts, for instance, is a form of regulation because it ensures that those who enter into agreements are forced to live up to them. Trust is an essential part of a market, after all. I am not sure I entirely agree with you that too much freedom tends to move money to the top rather than the bottom (aggregation of capital, a classic Marxist analysis), though of course this is a threat. This is more often than not the result of market capture, something that typically requires distortion of the marketplace by outside (usually government) interference. For instance, the growth of monopolies typically requires government interference (land grants, licensing, preferred contracts, etc.) to make it happen. I am not an absolutist on this, but am inclined to believe that less regulation (absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary) should be our default position.

          • ——————————

            What I mean by “greed” is that humans are greedy by nature. Greedy in that they are never satisfied, so they continue to create larger and larger companies, as one example (money moving to the top). So now much of the market place in most all businesses is controlled by large corporations. No matter where you go in the US now you see all the same businesses; McDonalds, Kohls, Hampton Inn, etc. And all the stores have the same products. You can’t tell one city from the next. The financial barrier to entry for many businesses is out of reach for many wanna-be entrprneurs, and getting higher and higher every year. And the little guys get pushed out or squashed.
            You can buy a franchise to help get over the barrier, but then you are just part of the problem….

          • f1b0nacc1

            And 20 years ago Amazon was a start-up and Walmart was all-powerful….where are they now? I don’t disagree with your concern, but I suspect that you are overstating the intensity of the process, and to some extent putting the blame in the wrong place. The incredible interference in the marketplace (largely by government, often at the behest of these huge megacorps) is what drives the concentration of wealth and power. Simply enforcing anti-trust law (something that Obama utterly ignored, and W was clearly inadequate in pursuing) is a good example of what might be done.

            As for the problems faced by the little guy, regulatory costs (government imposed), tort issues (obviously a government-centric problem), tax burdens (most small companies are sole proprietors or small corps that are badly hit by the current tax structure), and capital issues (largely the result of the Fed’s intrusion into the market and the Obama banking regulations) are the biggest problems, not any sort of corporate hoovering up of available resources.

            I do not dispute that you identify an issue, but I suspect that the causes (and consequently the solutions) are a bit different from what you might think.

          • ——————————

            “where are they now?”
            Amazon is taking over the retail business and figuring out how to eliminate jobs in it’s business model, at an incredible pace. And Walmart is still putting small retail businesses out of business and paying $9 as they always have. Amazon and Walmart…2 examples of human greed on steroids….and all in the name of ‘saving us money’. But since our savings rate is almost non-existent, it really means we can just buy more ‘stuff’ with the money we supposedly ‘saved’…and round and round we go.
            We can not legislate, tax, or govern our way out of our natural behavior. We never have, and we never will. That is a pipe dream. Things will not change (human nature doesn’t), they will simply continue at an ever faster pace until the end of humanity.

            The problem with me is that I was born in the wrong generation. I always tell my mother that she grew up at the best time in history (as I see it), born in the 1930’s. There was enough technology to make life a bit comfortable, but not all the insanity of today. Aside from medical and environmental technology, I feel we have accomplished nothing since the end of the ’50’s….

          • f1b0nacc1

            We have a very different view of these two companies. Walmart has done more to help the situation of the poor by providing products at substantially reduced prices (and in far greater varieties) to them, something that small and medium sized retailers never did. Arguably Walmart has been a greater boon to the poor than anything the government has come up with in the last 25 years. Yes, they certainly have hurt small/mid-sized retailers, and they are ferocious in their efforts to eliminate labor (their biggest single cost center) in the same way that the mercilessly squeeze suppliers (I have some direct person experience with this, as I have worked for several of their suppliers in their dealings with Walmart, and found it an utterly horrible experience…grin), but this is what businesses are supposed to do, and the broader aggregate benefits have been impressive. Amazon is little different, squeezing labor costs and suppliers, while crushing competition.

            In both cases, I don’t see this as greed (if you want to think of it that way, go right ahead), but rather as simply good business. What are these companies (both publicly held) supposed to do? What would you (as a stockholder) want them to be doing? They aren’t here to finance obsolete or even abusive business models, they are here to make money (legally, I must stress….when these companies cross that line, I have little sympathy for them, and agree that they should be held to account) for their stockholders. That this tends to provide massive benefits to society as a whole (admittedly at a cost to some segments) is a nice side effect, but no more than that.

            I should point out that a great many small businesses (and not a few medium sized ones as well) have reinvented themselves as Amazon partners and suppliers, and done very well with this. I know of several new small businesses (not so small anymore!) that were created explicitly to use the Amazon partner program…it works nicely for them, though it certainly is challenging. So as some enterprises are eliminated, others develop to take their place…how again is this a bad thing?

            Forgive me if I have little nostalgia for the 1930s, a period best remembered for the Great Depression and mass suffering. Good time to be someone with money and security, a bad time for everyone else. If it hadn’t been for WWII, the suffering might have gone on for a much longer time, prolonged by the Left’s worthless nostrums. As for the 1950s, great time to be a white male, not so much for everyone else.

            Communications technology, materials science, computers…and I am missing a great many others…all have contributed to a huge improvement int he quality of life that we enjoy today. I am old enough to remember the 1960s, and while they were delightful in many ways (one’s youth is ALWAYS better…after all, we are young then!), I have no desire to return to those days, and surrender so much of what we enjoy today. Yes, there are costs for these things (if you want an outstanding summary of that, listen to Henry Drummonds’ closing arguments in “Inherit the Wind”), but all change comes at a price, and freezing our world in amber is not an answer to that…

    • Angel Martin

      even the illegal immigrants will be unhappy about this one.

      • ——————————

        Well the guy went from 0 to 6000 customers in 2 years of business, so I know where his head is at…another money whore for mankind…as if we don’t have enough already. I like how he says that the robots will ‘free up crews to work with their hands’.
        No, the bots will displace hundreds of workers…period….

    • D4x

      Maybe the BDS protestors of California can stop this disruptive technology by protesting Intel’s acquisition of Mobileye, which includes the plan to move Intel’s automotive unit to Israel. (Half-kidding, because no mention of where Mobileye is located in Jerusalem)

      “American tech giant Intel confirmed its intent on Monday to acquire the Jerusalem-based autonomous driving company Mobileye for a record $15 billion …” 03.13.17 1:03 pm

      • ——————————

        Looks like quite a boon for Israel as far as the Intel jobs coming there…but aquisitions…always bad for employees….

        • D4x

          They can develop an app to prevent humans from driving vehicles as weapons. Better that than autonomous, which do make sense for farming, mining, other geographically contained sites. The idea of autonomous vehicles in urban centers, and interstate highways is too extreme.

  • ljgude

    Sounds like they have reinvented the road train. They go by my front door all the time here in Australia. If they can get it above two they will have invented the freight train. I tend to techno optimism, but I ain’t drinkin’ this Koolaide.

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