the robots are coming

Now the Machines Are Coming for Truck Drivers’ Jobs

Step off, robots.
Actually not sure I can imagine a world without truck stops. (Flickr.com/paraflyer)

Actually not sure I can imagine a world without truck stops. (Flickr.com/paraflyer)

God knows when Google’s autonomous cars will hit the streets for us commuters. And, Newt Gingrich’s enthusiasm aside, are drivers really ready to give up the wheel? Forget that, though: According to the Wall Street Journal, give it 20 years or so and it’s commercial trucking where self-driving vehicles look well nigh certain.

The Journal reports:

“Ubiquitous, autonomous trucks are ‘close to inevitable,’ says Ted Scott, director of engineering and safety policy for the American Trucking Associations. ‘We are going to have a driverless truck because there will be money in it,’ adds James Barrett, president of 105-rig Road Scholar Transport Inc. in Scranton, Pa.”

There’s already a mine in Australia transitioning over, which’ll eventually be operated by 45 Caterpillar mining trucks “only monitored by ‘technical specialists’ in a control room miles away.” And it’s an appealing prospect for logistics companies. One safety director’s response to the Journal: “Holy s—.” That doesn’t bode well for the 5.7 million Americans who currently rely on these jobs for a paycheck.

Of course, we’re still a long way from handing long-haul trucking over to the robots. But the incentives to figure it out are powerful, and it’s not hard to imagine semis racing though the flyover states along empty interstates without anyone behind the wheel.

Can’t wait for the twist ending to all this Red Planet enthusiasm, which is that humanity makes it to space–by sending only its robot slaves. Mars will be like Australia with automatons instead of criminals.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com