New technology is transforming trucking and bringing new players with new ideas into the industry. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

New technology is transforming trucking and bringing new players with new ideas into the industry. Photo: Mercedes-Benz 

On Monday morning this week, MIT, one of the leading engineering schools on the planet, published its list of Breakthrough Technologies for 2017, with “Driverless Trucks” holding down the number one position.

At this point, if you’ve been in the trucking industry for longer than five years, it’s perfectly fine to sit back, look around in amazement and wonder: Just what in the heck is going on?

Trucking hasn’t been this hot a property since Burt Reynolds had real hair. At this point, mainstream media news stories concerning this industry – and the technological revolution it is either going through, or about to go through (depending on who you’re talking to) – are becoming a daily event.

Why is that?

The movement of goods has been a staple of civilization since humans figured out the fundamentals of trade. It goes without saying that a lot of history and technology has been fueled by the desire to move goods around the planet as efficiently as possible. A century ago, some early pioneers decided to put the internal combustion engine to work doing exactly that and, over time, the industry that we know and love today gradually took shape. And while this industry has never been as efficient and professional as it is today, it’s still not good enough.

That, in a nutshell, is what in the heck is going on.

We’ve been in the developing stages of an Internet-fueled global super economy for a decade or so now, and it seems fair to say that we’re on the cusp of seeing that super economy go white-hot. The signs are everywhere:

  • The widening of the Panama Canal.
  • Chinese efforts to build their own canal across Nicaragua.
  • The ever-increasing demand for next-day, or even same-day logistics.
  • The shuttering of “brick and mortar” businesses as internet transactions take larger chunks of business away.
  • Increasing purchases of groceries and other consumable goods online.
  • Tech-savvy and massive market influencers like Amazon suddenly looking at establishing their own logistics divisions.
  • New tech players like Tesla, Apple, Uber and Google suddenly highly interested in breaking into trucking with new products.

All of the new-found energy and ideas swirling around trucking are there for a reason. Trucking is already a very important industry in a local, regional, national, and global sense and it’s about to become an extremely important industry.

Simply put, the countries and companies that invest financially and intellectually in new technology and procedures today will be the industry giants and policy makers when this new economy kicks into high gear. The companies that sneer at all this new tech and keep doing things the way they’ve always been done will fall behind their competitors with astonishing speed and once that technology gap is in place, it may be impossible to ever catch up and regain parity with competitors.

You think the pace of change is mind-boggling now? In 10 years’ time, you’ll be day-dreaming about how calm and quiet things were back in the late 20-teens.

Super-efficient, top-to-bottom logistics networks will be the defining strategic edge in this new century – as historically significant and economically vital as a Roman road, camel caravans on the Silk Road, Britain’s navy and merchant marines, or American air power.

If that’s the case, then the air and marine shipping aspects of this equation are already in place. All that’s left to do is install a modern, “smart” infrastructure and fine-tune the motorized portions of that global supply chain. Since it appears that the U.S. isn’t going to get serious about the infrastructure side of the equation any time soon, that means private sector investments in long-haul, regional, urban, and last-mile delivery logistics and equipment.

And here we are.

These are powerful global economic and technological forces we’re talking about here and that can be intimidating to contemplate. On the other hand, history clearly shows that the people and organizations that get in early on these seismic shifts in trade patterns, make a lot of money by doing so - an awful lot of money.

Are you going to be one of those people or organizations?

About the author
Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts

Executive Editor

Jack Roberts is known for reporting on advanced technology, such as intelligent drivetrains and autonomous vehicles. A commercial driver’s license holder, he also does test drives of new equipment and covers topics such as maintenance, fuel economy, vocational and medium-duty trucks and tires.

View Bio