Above the Fold: Supply Chain Logistics News (February 16, 2024)

We’re getting 8-12 inches of snow tomorrow.

That’s what the weather forecasters were saying Monday morning. By evening, they had dialed back their prediction to 5-6 inches.

When I woke up Tuesday morning and looked out my window, there was no snow on the ground. Nothing. Zero. 

A reminder that even with all the data we have today and fancy mathematical models, predicting the future is often a fool’s game.

Sometimes, you just have to wake up and see what happens.

And here’s what happened in the world of supply chain and logistics this week:

If An Autonomous Truck Must Have a Human Operator Behind the Wheel, Is It Really Autonomous?

Earlier this week, the Teamsters issued a press release highlighting how they, California lawmakers, and labor allies “gathered at the statehouse in Sacramento [California] to announce the reintroduction of legislation requiring a trained human operator behind the wheel of self-driving trucks weighing more than 10,000 lbs.” 

Assembly Majority Leader Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) first introduced the AV human operator bill in January 2023, but it was vetoed by Governor Newson in September 2023. As she comments in this week’s press release:

“I’ve reintroduced this bill because the Legislature’s role is critical in deciding when autonomous trucking is safe and when there is a REAL plan for our trucking workers. The autonomous trucking industry has cast this bill as a ban on technology when it explicitly states that testing and deployment will happen with a Human Safety Operator. Using their logic, they’re the ones who support a ban. A ban on humans in trucks. A ban on working people’s ability to provide for their families and provide safe roadways for Californians. We will not stand by and let them put profits over people.”

Why not have human operators at automated toll booths too? Or human assistants for sidewalk delivery robots? But I digress…

With regards to safety, the press release highlights several accidents involving autonomous cars, like the “Cruise robotaxi running over a pedestrian [after she was first hit by another car driven by a human] and dragging her 20 feet in San Francisco” and the “Waymo robotaxi [that] crashed into a cyclist in San Francisco.” While these incidents raise important safety questions and indicate that more work is required on the technology front, it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison. Autonomous vehicles operating in an urban environment, which involves a lot of stop-and-go driving as well as pedestrians, is a much more complex use case than autonomous vehicles operating primarily on highways and in more controlled environments, which is where the majority of autonomous trucks are being tested today (and likely in the future too). 

Also, the majority of autonomous trucks being used today have a safety driver in the cab, and that will likely be the case for the next 1-2 years, as autonomous truck developers continue to fine-tune their technology.

But the day will ultimately come when backup drivers will no longer be needed, and if California won’t allow it, Texas is ready to take the lead. As Joann Muller and Naheed Rajwani-Dharsi report in Axios (“How Dallas became the proving ground for autonomous trucks”):

Dallas is the hub of autonomous truck testing and development, thanks to its vital freight corridors, business-friendly policies and generally favorable weather.

Most autonomous truck developers are testing their rigs with real customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, [including Aurora, Kodial Robotics, Gatik, and Torc Robotics].

This might be a case where, as the Borg would say, resistance is futile.

And with that, have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “Throw Your Arms Around Me” by Neil Finn & Eddie Vedder