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Aurora Trucking makes a presentation directed to truckers at the Mid America Truck Show in Louisville, Kentucky on March 21, 2024.  The company claimed, "We aren't replacing drivers; we are adding to the workforce."

Frequently Asked Questions

I've been bumping elbows with drivers over the last two years and noticed that there is a huge information gap within the trucking community, regarding the basic status and intent of this technology. I compiled the most common questions and answered them as best I could. ​If you find any errors, have any additional questions, or suggestions to include additional aspects of this issue, please reach out to me at I'll update this as soon as I can. 


Will autonomous trucks replace truck drivers?
Yes. That is entirely the point of this type of automation. The autonomous trucking developers are trying to claim that "they aren’t replacing drivers; they’re adding to the workforce.” If you squint and only focus on the very initial deployment of these machines, that may be true within a very limited context. But those same autonomous trucking developers say very different things to investors. The narrative of the sales pitch changes wildly depending on the seats of power being occupied.

The American trucking industry is worth nearly 1 trillion dollars per year. The first autonomous trucking company to get this technology "acceptably safe" to bring to market is going to unlock a domestic market worth upwards of 200 billion dollars per year by some estimates. And that’s not factoring in a 4 trillion-dollar global trucking industry… Anything becomes possible with that amount of money on the table. These tech companies have zero incentive to stop. 

Will autonomous trucks affect freight rates?
Yes. Removing the driver will free up roughly anywhere from 20 to 45 percent of the current per mile operating cost of driving a truck and roughly double the distance that you can send that same truck in a 24-hour period. There will be more operational costs like data management, insurance, and maintenance costs that will eat into that percentage, likely through subscription services. But overall, it will lower freight rates, increase profitability for those able to invest and drive further market consolidation. That’s the entire point of this technology. That’s coming directly from their sales pitch to investors.

When will we see autonomous trucks on our highways?
Aurora Trucking and Kodiak Robotics have both been very aggressive in saying that they will be able to launch the first driverless trucks by the end of 2024. Granted, this isn't the first time we've heard this. But the tech is expanding, laws are being passed, and protests are starting to happen. If the first driverless trucks don't launch this year, it won't be long after that. 

How many autonomous trucks can we expect to see in the next few years?
That depends on a lot of factors. But a recent investor report from Aurora Trucking left us some breadcrumbs. They claimed that they intend to hit 2 billion driverless miles by the end of 2028 and that their trucks will be able to get 200,000 to 250,000 per year. When you work the math backwards on that you would need an average of 2,500 driverless trucks to hit two-billion-miles in 4 years. This seems doable considering the interest from Werner, Hirschbach, Covenant, and FedEx along with their OEM partnerships with Volvo and Paccar.

However, Aurora is starting off with around 20 driverless trucks at launch and it will take time to bring production to scale. I’m guessing they’ll need around 5,000 to 10,000 of these driverless trucks running around the clock by the end of 2028 to hit that two-billion-mile target. I could be off on that. It's important to remember that this is just one company. They have several serious competitors and the first one to market typically reaps the lion's share of the benefits. 

Will autonomous trucks be electric?
Nearly all of the autonomous trucks being tested now are diesel due to technology and infrastructure hurdles and will likely be diesel for the foreseeable future. But autonomous vehicle technology is powertrain agnostic, meaning that it can be fueled by any energy source. If battery and hydrogen fuel technology get to the point where it performs similarly to diesel in price, range, and recharging times. That’s when it will convert away from diesel. But that likely won’t be for a while yet due to the scale needed and operational tempo of the industry.

How much will autonomous trucks cost?
The final price tags are unknown. But statements from Plus.AI indicated that the added cost for the hardware could be around $30,000-50,000, not including the other associated costs of subscription fees for data management, updates, and insurance rates. Those services could cost an additional $30,000-50,000 per year per truck. Keep in mind, these are very rough estimates based on an investor presentation from 2021. These companies have not finalized pricing yet due to all the variables in supply chains and manufacturing. But prices will drop over time as it scales. Expect to see these machines first with the largest fleets and especially among any of those that are big enough to self-insure.

How can small businesses take advantage of this technology?
I don’t have a very hopeful outlook for this. Based on the investor materials and who’s participating in the initial testing programs, it looks like this technology isn’t intended to be sold to smaller companies, at least initially. The tech developers are targeting the megacarriers first and they will likely get the lion's share of the first production models as they become available.

The other serious issue is how scalability affects the cost savings. The more autonomous trucks you have, the more money you save from reduced labor costs, the alleged increase in fuel economy, and its increased effectiveness over time. So, even if small companies can get access to it they likely won’t see the same cost savings that the larger companies are going to get, which still puts the mom-and-pops at a disadvantage.

Driverless trucks are fundamentally no different than steam drills on railroads, robotic arms in manufacturing, or what was to brick and mortar retail. They’re a labor replacing technology, with a high capital investment, and are incredibly difficult to implement and compete against.

What should small trucking businesses do?
Diversify your business and focus on the types of trucking that aren’t being targeted by autonomous trucks. These tech companies are focusing on the easiest things first, so start shifting to the hardest things if you can. But keep in mind, when this tech starts having an impact on freight rates a lot of the drivers will still have leases to pay. I wouldn’t be surprised if drivers in that situation flood the labor market in things like hazmat, heavy haul, and oversized trucking. Labor surpluses depress rates too. It’s a double whammy…

What should drivers do?
Get any endorsement or certification and all the experience you can in “A.I. safe” markets now, not later. Talk with your friends and colleagues about the issue. Stay out of debt as best you can. Network with any pro-driver organization or association that's raising this issue and write your elected representatives about it regularly.

Also, if you’re able, driving jobs can be a great opportunity to educate yourself and gain new skills through audiobooks. This isn’t a paid endorsement or advertisement, but The Great Courses has tons of fantastic college lectures from some of the best programs and professors in academia and is available through multiple platforms. They cover about every major topic that you can think of from history, math, science, religion, business, and etcetera.

If you take that route, try to focus your time on specific skills or topics that are expected to be viable in the coming years. Or focus on subjects that you can take a CLEP test on later for college credit. You will save a TON of money.

What are the good things about autonomous trucks?

The tech developers are making the case that this technology will be safer than a human driver. It’s a difficult point to argue after digging into the capabilities of their trucks. They’ll be able to see nearly 360 degrees in all directions simultaneously and react much faster than any human. Fewer Americans dying from traffic accidents is absolutely a noble goal.

But there’s other ways to make our roads safer. Safety is one of the primary sales points of autonomous trucks to megacarriers, which is ironic. These same type of trucking companies tend to have extremely high turnover rates, of 90 to over 100 percent, due to poor working conditions, low pay, and often put their drivers in debt with predatory lease purchase agreements. These same companies have flooded the labor market with newly undertrained drivers to increase their bottom line…

Increased training standards, better employee protections, and higher pay would help solve their retention crisis while simultaneously making our roads safer. And it turns out truckers often double as first responders. The Truckload Carriers Association has awarded over 1,300 truck drivers over the last 20 years for acts of heroism and humanity on our highways. It would make sense to treat them well so they gain experience and give them basic medical training in CDL schools, wouldn’t you think?

How will these things be insured?
Aurora Trucking is saying that they will cover some of the insurance through their DaaS (Driver as a Service) model, which is subscription based. But the rates and details of that have yet to be finalized and released. Their competitors will likely do something similar. Insurance rates will be high for these machines initially but will likely drop as the technology proves itself.

Who is liable in the event of an accident?
Great question… The dust on that won’t be settled for a while. The biggest problems that I see with this is that you can’t punish a robot and as far as I know no-one has gone to jail or been held accountable (like drivers routinely are) for the critical injuries and fatal accidents that have occurred in the AV industry. Tech is getting very preferential treatment to bring this to market.

Who’s going to do the refueling and pre-trip inspections?
Non-automatable driver related tasks like this will be done either at the transfer hubs prior to launch and after recovery, or at planned fuel stops. These companies are trying to focus on long empty stretches of interstates between major urban centers. This new process may create a handful of jobs, but the restructuring of these tasks to one specific role will be far more efficient and cheaper than relying on drivers. 1,000 autonomous trucks will be able to do the work of around 2,000 drivers. How many refuelers will you need to do pre-trip inspections? Not that many. 

Where will this happen first?
Texas and then throughout the sun belt. This is due to a lot of factors but chief among them are favorable weather and permissive regulatory environments. Chances are you will see them expand onto the highest density and most profitable freight lanes first, depending on their clientele. Eventually, they’ll push up north when they figure out how to operate in winter driving conditions.

Why are states allowing this?
Legislators can't keep up with how fast the tech industry is moving and there’s a ton of skepticism among regulators and the general public yet if it will ever work. And a lot of this discussion is centered on our race to A.I. with China. Whoever dominates A.I. and Quantum will allegedly dominate the next century. Despite all that, there seems to be an appetite for genuine bipartisan cooperation on this issue.

California nearly banned driverless vehicles over 10,001 pounds with bipartisan majorities in both houses with AB316 before being vetoed by Governor Newsom in 2023. The Teamsters got that bill back on the schedule in 2024 as AB2286. Ironically, blue states are currently trending to be more wary of this tech than red states. But that may be subject to change based on the rural haul through states, who won’t benefit from this technology.

There has been other similar state legislation considered recently in Indiana and New York. Eventually, the Federal Government will have to weigh in since autonomous trucks will be operating on federal infrastructure. Keep an eye on the dormant commerce clause… that will likely become the key argument in court cases and federal legislation. 

Can these trucks be hacked?
Absolutely. Any computer can be hacked. Modern automotive technology has a lot of vulnerabilities that can be exploited by bad actors. I’m sure the autonomous vehicle industry is taking this issue seriously on a technical level regarding direct hacking attempts. But….. There are a lot of other ways that these systems can be manipulated or sabotaged without cutting edge hacking skills or expensive hardware.

Are autonomous trucks more fuel efficient?
Allegedly, but that remains to be seen at scale. The industry is claiming they’ll be able to get a 10% increase in fuel economy. The idea is that you will get better fuel economy through more efficient operation of the vehicle. But these things have to drive a LOT of miles before those savings start showing up. 


Are autonomous trucks environmentally friendly?

Absolutely not. This technology is being thoroughly greenwashed. Long story short, even if autonomous trucks get a ten percent increase in fuel economy, when you have unmoved freight and you make moving it cheaper, faster, and more efficient you are going to burn more fossil fuels to meet that increased demand. In addition to the increase in fuel consumption, there is also a risk that this technology could make traffic congestion worse since driverless trucks won’t be limited by hours-of-service regulations. They will be operating around the clock. It’s the same as pizza place buying a hybrid for the better fuel economy but driving twice as many miles to make more deliveries. The margins are better, but you end up using more fuel.

If you want to transportation to be greener, help drivers, save on infrastructure costs, and cut down on traffic, put that excess freight on trains. Carnegie Melon did a great study on that a few years back. 

Doesn't new technology create more jobs? 
Yes. Over the long term, new technologies over the last 300 years have created more new jobs and higher standards of living. There's a chance the tech industry may end up being right on that this time. But the catch is that this outcome is a long-term result and ignores the short-term disruptions. The last time we had a technology this disruptive, it was the steam engine. That one technology started the industrial revolution. It changed everything and set in motion a path that led increased standards of living for everyone.

The part of that which doesn't get mentioned is how long it took for those conditions to improve and the violent reactions these new industrial processes incited along the way. There was around a 70-year period where wages were depressed and master craftsmen in the textile industry fell into poverty. Englishmen even got shorter due to the malnutrition during that time. So, they revolted and started breaking the machines and burning down the factories. Again, the tech industry may end up being right that we will all be better off in 30 or 50 years. But that doesn't do us much good if we tear each other apart as the result of these economic disruptions in the next 10 or 20 years. America is already very unstable.

But this is all assuming that historical precedent remains true. There are very convincing reasons to believe that this beneficial outcome won't this time around. There is no precedent for the rate and scale of this change, among the blue-collar and white-collar roles that will be affected in every industry simultaneously. And that's just from artificial intelligence... Quantum computing and bipedal robotics are just around the corner. 

What's the viewpoint and purpose of this project?
Stealing Fire is taking the investor rhetoric at face value and using that to help drive meaningful conversations about the future of work and the other associated issues with this technology which are not being adequately addressed. It’s also repackaging work from leading academics, economics historians, industry think tanks, and futurists to put the projected impacts of A.I. into context for people who work in the trucking industry. And hopefully it connects with folks outside of that too.

Is this project anti-technology?
No. Not at all. Every technology is value neutral and depends on how we use it. Uranium can be used for nuclear power or nuclear bombs. A.I. and its direct application to autonomous vehicles is no exception to that same ethical dynamic. There is clearly a place for this technology. A.I. driven trucks would have saved a ton of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan by keeping American service members away from roadside bombs. But alternatively, similar algorithms and off the shelf robotics tech can be used to make car bombs and assassin drones. The hard part of navigating this issue is figuring out how to use these technologies in a way that we can all agree to live with. 

A lot of the harm that A.I. will cause in the short term is economic and the impacts of that on working- and middle-class people get continually downplayed, especially in trucking. The growing fear is that the future is moving faster than our ability to adapt to it. We’ve barely scratched the surface with artificial intelligence. Two years from now it’ll be far more powerful and capable of things we can’t currently imagine. According to IBM, within five years quantum computing will be commercially viable and that will create another exponentially explosive impact on how we live. The changes will only accelerate and there will be significant disruptions and economic pain for those in the firing line.

There’s a ton of great applications for A.I. and plenty of things for us to be genuinely excited about. But we need to address the blatantly obvious issues and prevent the worst consequences of this change. Especially, since we all have to live with the outcome.

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