Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

As I write this at the end of September, it’s been a dizzying month of technology advances. We’re talking a stream of amazing stuff straight out of a science fiction story.

The IAA Commercial Vehicles Show in Germany, for instance, highlighted what in Europe they call “digitization,” along with electric mobility and urban logistics, under the banner of “New Mobility World Logistics.” There were electric vans and autonomous trucks. Heads-up windshield displays with virtual side-view mirrors. Systems that can back up a truck to the dock without a driver at the wheel. Concept urban vehicles with delivery drones and robots and self-loading systems. (We’ll have more on what we saw at IAA in next month’s issue.)

On the plane trip home, I read a column in the International New York Times suggesting that presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton talk in their first debate about what they’re going to do about self-driving trucks.

Then Reuters published an article about Uber’s plans to transform the trucking industry, on the heels of its purchase of autonomous truck tech startup Otto. And UPS staged a test using a drone to deliver medication in a hard-to-reach location.

This is all after the Department of Transportation published its first set of guidelines for the development and regulation of autonomous vehicles.

Navistar and Volvo both unveiled their SuperTruck concept trucks, achieving 12 and 13 mpg. The North American Council on Freight Efficiency released a report on two-truck platooning’s potential for fuel savings.

And it’s not just technology on the truck itself. The TMW/PeopleNet In.Sight conference highlighted how information technology, telematics, the Internet of Things and Big Data can transform the way the transportation industry works, keep the driver connected, and help fleets make better decisions both in real time and for long term strategies.

At FTR’s annual conference, along with a lot of economic analysis, “digital disruptions” were a highlighted topic. A survey of trucking/logistics and supply chain firms shows that drones, self-driving trucks, so-called “Uber” for freight transportation as well as the Internet of Things and Big Data all have the power to disrupt today’s ways of moving freight over the next seven to eight years, according to Steve Sashihara, CEO of the information technology and management firm Princeton Consultants.

“We don’t think people in general are going to order a 53-foot dry van trailer by an iPhone, hit a button and an owner-operator they have never met is going to respond and pick up the load, and all their intermediaries are gone,” he said. “But we do think it’s a useful incentive for looking at innovation, and it’s hard not to look at the taxi industry and say man, they were asleep at the switch.”

And that’s all just in the past month. Next month, we’ll have a reporter at the unveiling of the Nikola One, an emissions-free truck that it says will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells. (Never mind that it originally said it would be all electric.) Tesla CEO Elon Musk is working on electric autonomous trucks. (Musk, who also is with SpaceX, also outlined some grand visions for building a Mars settlement.)

Part of our job here at HDT is to help you stay on top of all these technologies and offer some insights into what is most likely to affect your company. But if you’re feeling a bit like George Jetson on his runaway treadmill, you’re not alone.