This Week in Logistics News (March 19-23, 2018)

I’m on borrowed time this morning, so let’s go straight to the supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention this week:

The Headline Everyone Feared: Self-Driving Car Kills Pedestrian

The headline everyone working on autonomous cars and trucks feared (but always knew would come someday) came true this week: a self-driving car killed a pedestrian as she crossed a road in Tempe, Arizona. As reported by the New York Times:

The [Uber] car, a Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle outfitted with a sensor system, was in autonomous mode when it struck Elaine Herzberg around 10 p.m. on Sunday. There was a human safety driver at the wheel, but the car was carrying no passengers.

The vehicle was going about 40 miles an hour on a street with a 45-mile-an-hour speed limit when it struck Ms. Herzberg, 49, who was walking her bicycle across the street, according to the Tempe police.

The Tempe police department released a video recording from a dashboard camera showing the exterior and interior of the car moments before the accident. I watched the video and Ms. Herzberg appears to come out of nowhere in the dark (she was crossing in the middle of the road, not a crosswalk). Would I had seen in her time to react? I honestly don’t know, which is exactly why autonomous vehicles with lidar, sensors, and cameras are supposed to be safer than human drivers (by seeing, detecting, and reacting faster than humans). Why did these systems fail? That’s the big question Uber will have to investigate and answer, but the short answer is that, despite all of the optimistic predictions of when driverless cars will roam the streets, autonomous driving technology is still not ready for prime time.

In fact, that was my big takeaway last November after attending CSCMP’s EDGE 2017 conference. As I wrote at the time:

Will the technology, specifically driverless cars on urban streets, really be ready in a couple of years? If you attended this year’s CSCMP EDGE 2017 conference and listened to Professor Mary “Missy” Cummings’ keynote speech on “The Future of Artificial Intelligence and Logistics,” you probably walked away, like I did, with some serious doubts.

The police video also shows the “human safety driver” behind the wheel not paying attention to the road; she was looking down for five seconds before the accident, her hands not on the steering wheel. This is yet another reason why autonomous vehicles are supposed to be safer than human drivers. The reality is that we already live in a world of driverless cars. As I wrote way back in February 2013 in Beware, Driverless Cars Are Everywhere!:

If you drove to work this morning, chances are you shared the road with countless driverless cars. Not the ones developed by Google and several automakers, which are getting a lot of press these days, but ordinary cars like yours, with people sitting in the driver’s seat, except they weren’t really driving, at least not all the time. They were texting, checking email, searching for a song on the radio, eating a bagel, applying makeup, lost in thought about last night…

Maybe you drove to work this morning in a driverless car.

The sad truth is that 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 people were injured by distracted drivers in the U.S. in 2015. An estimated 660,000 drivers use electronic devices while driving during the day (based on my observations, I think that estimate is way too low). So, yes, the human safety driver failed to do her job in this accident and bears some responsibility — but she wasn’t doing anything all of us haven’t been guilty of doing at some point while driving (if you’re reading this post on your phone while driving, please stop and keep your eyes on the road!)

Tight Capacity and Rising Transportation Costs

“Cheerios cereal maker General Mills Inc. said a sharper-than-expected increase in freight and commodity costs [emphasis mine] would hurt full-year profit to a greater degree than it forecast just a month ago,” according to a Reuters report. “Chief Executive Jeff Harmening said North American freight prices were near 20-year highs in February…General Mills said cost-saving measures would include increasing the number of qualified freight carriers, using different modes of transportation and tightly monitoring spending for the rest of the fiscal year.”

Tight capacity and rising transportation costs — it’s the talk of the town these days. What actions can you take to successfully navigate this “new normal” in the trucking market? Check out my recent conversation with Steve Raetz from C.H. Robinson for some insights and advice, and stay tuned for other Talking Logistics episodes in the pipeline that also address this topic.

And with that, have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “Broken” by Lovelytheband