Wondering about robotic trucks taking over the industry? Troy and Connor discuss the autonomous trucking and self-driving vehicle future, along with interviews from Don “Yogi” Kreiger of A&S Kinard, and Lee Koon from Terminal Transport INC. Listen in for the latest news topics, some trucking trivia, and a special appearance by the one and only Troy Thunder…
Autonomous Trucks and Self-Driving Vehicles – BigRigBanter Ep. 9 – Full Transcript
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Connor: Hello and welcome to Episode 9 of BigRigBanter, a show about all things commercial driving and transportation related. I’m your co-host, Connor Smith.
Troy: And I’m your co-host, Troy Diffenderfer.
Connor: And today we’re going to be talking about autonomous trucks, self-driving vehicles, and everything that comes along with that. We’ll hear from Don “Yogi” Krieger, manager of driver recruitment and safety from A&S Kinard, as well as Lee Koon from Terminal Transport, with their perspectives on the autonomous trucking phenomenon and how it’s going to affect current drivers and industry professionals.
Troy: Alright before we get into those interviews, Connor, I think it’s best to answer some of the common questions that many truckers are asking when we’re dealing with the autonomous trucking industry and where it’s going to go from there.
Connor: Absolutely, yeah, there’s a lot of misconceptions about this. Most people are under the assumption that there’s gonna be robotic trucks driving themselves and that they’re going to be completely out of a job, when most of the contacts we’ve spoke to and things that we’ve read so far kind of illustrate the point that this isn’t going to be the case. More so, it’s going to be a lengthy transition into adopting this technology, although some of it is already on the roads as we speak. And for just a general overview, it comes down to talking about the different levels of autonomy and how we can start to understand that.
Troy: Yeah, and stick around! Don and Lee are gonna be talking about what those levels are, as well as hopefully put your mind at ease when it comes to the autonomous movement. Many think that their jobs are in jeopardy, and that might not be the case according to them so again, we encourage you to listen to those interviews coming up, but why don’t we answer some of the common questions that a lot of our listeners have been asking us when it comes to autonomous trucks? Just give us a run down, what are self driving vehicles and automated vehicles?
Connor: So we’re gonna start going through each of the levels here, this is according to an article found on The Star Tribune. And so, starting with level 0, that’s when a driver performs all the tasks. That’s what we’ve had up until this point, so that’s really nothing new, but level 1, when you start getting into the first level here, that is really to indicate technology that is controlled by the driver, but still has some driver assist features. So, mostly you’re gonna be talking about things like cruise control, and just sort of back up cameras and stuff like that still requires a majority of human input to function correctly, but it is definitely aimed at improving safety.
Troy: Yeah, and these are things that are already in place. I mean, we see them in our regular vehicles that we drive today, whether it’s a rearview camera or cruise control that has been around for quite a while now, or even there’s many vehicles out there that will automatically brake if something jumps out, and these are more for your safety and less of trying to take over an industry.
Connor: And the automatic braking I think might actually be getting into level 2, which is the driver must remain engaged, but the vehicle has combined automated functions such as acceleration and steering. So that, again, is what we were just mentioning. It’s a computer on board making decisions about the movement of the vehicle and assisting drivers, although you still need to be fully aware of what’s going on. It’s not that sort of Anchorman 2 situation where you just put cruise control on and everyone sits in the back of the RV. You still have to have your hands on the steering wheel and be fully alert.
Although the third level is defined as the driver being a necessary part of the equation, but not required to monitor the environment. They have to be ready to take control of the vehicle if something were to go wrong, but otherwise, vehicles will be able to pilot themselves and will be able to follow the regular rules of the road, generally speaking. So that is something that a lot of companies haven’t quite perfected yet. I think, as you’ll hear later in our interview with Lee, it’s something that we’re on the verge of, but it hasn’t quite been, like I said, perfected and able to be implemented on a wide scale, in public at least. Again, it’s all about safety and it’s making sure these technologies can be used without hazard to other drivers and it really kind of recalls the story of the Tesla Model S and its mishap with actually running into a tractor trailer truck while in autopilot mode. The situation there was, I guess, that it didn’t see the color of the trailer itself against the color of the sky and it made a judgment and merged lanes and killed the driver and just caused a massive accident. So, you know, it’s situations like those that are really making people weary about this technology, but as you’ll hear, we’re still a ways off but we’re steadily working toward full autonomy. So next, level 4 autonomy is when a vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions. So that, essentially, means you don’t need a driver at all. Level 4 is completely autonomous vehicles, things that can be piloted remotely, you can have a fleet of them, you know, they can connect to each other and coordinate. Realistically, they’re just gonna be drone trucks, essentially.
Troy: Yeah, and I think that’s where many people assume we’re gonna be in a year or two which just isn’t the case. Things are going to remain at levels 0, 1, and 2 for quite some time and we’re gonna talk about it about it in a little how many trucking companies kind of have this arms race to create these automated vehicles, but it’s still gonna be decades off. And again, Lee Koon and Don are gonna reiterate what we’re talking about, which is good, but we hope this really puts your mind at ease that these level 4 and 5 trucks are still kind of pipe dreams, or at least, not going to be in effect for some time now.
Connor: Absolutely. I mean, yeah, the level 5 trucks themselves are vehicles that can perform these functions under all conditions, whereas a level 4 truck, you know, it may not be the best option if you have hazardous conditions, or things that require a little bit more human input, but full level 5 autonomy is, you know, completely intelligent vehicles that can drive through snow, rain, can view hazards in their way, can make these accurate decisions and keep the public safe. So, you know, you may be wondering, how is all of that possible, you know? Like, what technologies are at play that allow these trucks to pull of these incredible feats? The basics, as far as we know at this point, there are radar gauges that can monitor a vehicle’s surroundings, LiDAR, which is light detection and ranging sensors, I would assume that’s similar to lasers in a certain way, but actually, LiDAR is referring to sensors that map things in 3D. So the truck is actually understanding its environment as a 3-dimensional world and not just, sort of, distances from itself, which is very interesting. You have high precision cameras, which are positioned all around the truck, which is something we’ll kind of mention with the Tesla model truck that’s coming out. The early pictures are showing a truck without any rearview mirrors, so that’s hinting at the fact that it’s gonna be all high precision camera based in its ability to monitor its surroundings. And then obviously you have computers that process all of this information, GPS, driving directions, vehicle positioning, you know, road conditions, everything like that that you’d need to be aware of to make mechanical decisions with. You’ll have electromechanical actuators, basically the connection between the computer itself and the output control for things like steering, throttling, and braking. And you’ll finally have kill buttons, which shut down autonomous functions when needed for a human to take back over, which is something I think we’re all kind of weary of. You know, it’s gotta have that final kill button so that we don’t just have this complete takeover and we can’t ever shut these things down in a sort of terminator scenario. Obviously it’s not going to happen that way, but you know, you want peace of mind, just build a kill switch into it. That’s what I say. But yeah, so those are the basic, sort of, mechanical features and technological features that a lot of these trucks are gonna have. So, it’s all about understanding the progression and how these things get added step by step, and what it means for drivers and their ability to specialize themselves and become familiar with, you know, these new processes and technologies.
Troy: Yeah, and another major question that many truckers have been asking is who are some of the major companies working on this? And I hinted at it before, there’s almost a smaller space race going on of who can kind of implement this technology and get it up and running first and put their flag in the ground what it comes to automated trucks. Many companies believe that if they become the first to produce a working automated truck that they can find themselves leading a really lucrative industry. Which I’m sure is true. Any kind of major breakthrough is gonna lead to a lot of money for sure. And that’s why a lot of major companies, not just trucking companies, but just technology companies in general, like Tesla, are throwing their hat into the ring. These major companies like Mack Truck are already releasing prototypes, as well as major tech companies like I mentioned, Tesla. They’re hoping to become the flag-bearers of the new industry and Connor, I know you’re going to talk about Tesla’s vehicles some more.
Connor: That’s right. So, to get a little bit more in-depth and specific with each of the trucks these companies are aiming to put out, we’re gonna start with Tesla here, and their semi-truck is aimed at being all electric. It’s gonna feature top self-driving computer systems and will be able to travel anywhere from 200 to 300 miles on a single charge. Interesting first images show a cab without mirrors, suggesting this vehicle may take advantage of advanced camera systems like I mentioned. So we know Tesla is a major player, they’ve already got leg up on the competition, but another company, which is the other have of Nikola Tesla’s namesake, the company Nikola, they’re looking to release a truck called the Nikola One, which again, is a semi-truck. Although this one is gonna be boasting a hydrogen-electric powered system. It’s gonna produce a thousand horsepower, only require 15 minutes to refill it, and for early adopters of this technology, they’re actually promising one million miles of free hydrogen fuel. So again, a huge incentive to try and make these trucks a reality. Additionally, you have companies like Auto, who are owned by Uber, both very German words, and they’re actually implementing self-driving and autonomous technology in existing trucks. Mainly you’ll see Volvos using this technology, and a lot of it is just self-driving features, you know, lane assistance stuff, cameras, navigation equipment, and really things that are level 2 autonomy and below at the moment. Otherwise, you have Waymo, which is Google’s self-driving project, and they’re more so looking right now at just sort of getting consumer vehicles up and running, but there’s no reason to think they won’t try to enter this market as well and try to implement their computer systems in trucks, existing trucks, or eventually create their own. There’s no word on that, but you know, it’s really bound to happen eventually. So, you know, one of the interesting things about a lot of these self-driving trucks and autonomous vehicles is that they’re moving off of traditional diesel fuels. So, some reports by the Department of Energy claim that autonomous vehicles could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by 200 percent. Critics are saying that automated vehicles might actually encourage more people to utilize personal transportation, and thereby create higher emissions and everything that comes along with that. Then again, these types of vehicles will have the ability to plan out the most efficient route so it could help to save fuel as well. It all really depends on how many people, you know, are able to purchase and utilize this technology in a consumer way, and the power sources that are made available in these vehicles. So really, you know, that’s kind of a…it’s both an ominous and an enlightening perspective on that when you think about, you know, we’re gonna have less energy consumption, but with more people on the road, it could ultimately kind of backfire, you know?
Troy: Yeah and again, it’s way off, but I think it’s awesome to see this competition and, kind of, competition always makes these companies better and in the end it’s going to help everyone because we’re gonna see these new safety precautions implemented and it’s gonna make the road safer, we hope, and it’s really exciting to see things blossom and obviously we don’t want jobs taken over, but we do care about safety and it’s exciting to see how many of these companies are implementing different pieces of technology to keep the roads safe and keep our drivers safe.
Connor: Absolutely, and you know, I was reading in that Star Tribune article, which we’ll provide a link to at the bottom of this video or podcast, wherever you’re listening. It was talking about how 94 percent of accidents on the road are driver error, you know? So, that’s a huge, huge percentage of crashes and accidents being caused by humans. So presumably, you know, with more of this technology on the road you’re gonna have safer roadways. Even though we’re not quite there yet and it seems a little bit like, if we haven’t done it already then why should we continue trying? But overall, the goal that a lot of people in the industry will tell you is to just make things safer and more efficient and honestly, more comfortable for drivers, you know? Something that will provide a lot of opportunities for specialization and, you know, new jobs, training, and skill building kind of stuff. So I think it’s just important to think about it in that regard.
Troy: So obviously many truckers fear that these automated trucks will push them out the door, leaving many looking for jobs, but luckily we were able to speak with Don Krieger who hopefully will put a voice to your concerns and maybe set your mind at ease after listening to this interview. While this new implementation does seem like a looming broom ready to sweep you guys out the door, I think you’ll be surprised to hear that this most likely won’t be the case. So, here’s that interview with Don “Yogi” Krieger.
Troy: Alright well we’re welcoming Yogi Krieger to the BigRigBanter podcast. Yogi, how are you doing today?
Yogi: Good, good!
Troy: Good! Our episode today, we’re talking about the automated trucks and stuff like that, and I know you have some experience with the automated trucks. I know you have a variety of opinions and we just kind of wanted to get your take on it, so why don’t you tell the listeners a little about your background. We know you work for A&S Kinard, we’ve worked with you in the past, many of our listeners have viewed the Troy Thunder trucking video and hopefully they’re familiar that we were lucky enough to have A&S Kinard host us for that video so again, we thank you for that.
Yogi: Well great, well thank you very much. Yeah, I’ve been in transportation, and I just kind of thought of this before you called, probably a little short of 30 years now, which kind of dates myself. I started out as a driver, as an owner-operator, back in the late 80s, or, mid to late 80s, and used to drive, as a lot of guys say, when they had square wheels and no power steering, so I kind of worked my way up through a couple different companies. I’m sure everyone might be familiar with Schneider National, many years ago in the 90s when they were first starting. I was with Glen Moore Transport for many years, then moved over to Shaffer and Crete, and I’ve been here at A&S Kinard for the past two years.
Connor: Right on. That’s quite the resume you’ve got going on there.
Yogi: Yeah, I still am kind of wondering myself why I’m still here, but I still do it and I still love it so, must be something about it.
Connor: Those are plenty of good reasons, really. So have you heard any concerns drivers may have about self-driving trucks and automated trucks and maybe what they could mean for the industry?
Yogi: Yeah and actually, I haven’t seen a whole lot as far as on the driver’s side. I really think it’s still in its infancy stage. A couple reasons is they do have the cars, but now you’re dealing with an articulating vehicle that bends in the middle, and also, too, right now I don’t think our country’s infrastructure could handle it. I know they’ve been doing some more studies over in Europe. I haven’t heard any as far as our drivers, or drivers that I talk to on a daily basis, mention much about it other than probably joking about it. I think it’s something that we probably will see way in the future, if we see it at all. I certainly have my own opinions about that. I think without having somebody at the control, controlling that size of a vehicle, you are definitely putting the public in jeopardy. First example I would say would be the new planes coming out with the airline thing. They’re pretty much completely automated, but they still have a pilot. I don’t think it’s gonna ever have a jeopardy of the drivers losing jobs, it’s just the jobs will change as times have, over the past several years especially.
Connor: Absolutely. We certainly hope that, you know, drivers are still gonna be in the driver’s seat, moving forward in the future here. But how do you feel, if self-driving trucks were to become a reality, how do you think they would impact the industry? Do you think there would be positives sides to it, any benefits? Or do you think the cons would maybe outweigh any of those benefits?
Yogi: I think, yeah probably, if there was any positives it would be more so related to like an on-time delivery type, where it’s something that’s needed at a certain period of time. That certainly will help with the manufacturing part of it, delivering parts. For example, for cars, for delivering parts, they’re on on-demand delivery so that definitely will be one of the advantages to that. As far as disadvantages, again, numerous, I think, will it cut into some of the employment? Yes, it probably would, if and when it ever happens, and I’m sure you’ve probably talked about it on your show before, probably every driver’s heard this, we’re heading into a major driver shortage here in the next couple years. We’re actually in one now, but it’s gonna get much worse as time progresses. So if that were to ever happen, I don’t see it happening, that it would help at all but if it would, that would probably be one of the advantages of it.
Troy: Yeah, that’s what I was gonna ask. We did cover the driver shortage in a previous episode and that is one of the major arguments. Do you think that would kind of bridge the gap?
Yogi: Yeah, I think it would, and then again, it comes down to when is it gonna happen? I think, you know, in the immediate future, no, I think it’s just gonna be a matter of attracting, and we talked about this the other day, is making truck driving cool again. I think that’s probably one of our biggest problems right now. As the trucks have evolved over the years, you’ll see a lot of trucks now have satellite TV in them. Of course, refrigerators have become standard with a lot of them now, and they’re trying to make them more comfortable for the drivers. I think that’s going to help the situation a little bit, but, like you said, I think the shortage is gonna be that bad that, yeah, I think one of the things that they’re gonna go for probably is the driverless equipment. Again, I think it’s many, many years, and I would say probably before my life, sometime after my lifetime, that’ll probably happen.
Troy: So how do you kind of, I know you’re skeptical about this kind of driverless future being on the horizon, but I’m sure there are truckers out there that are pretty nervous about the kind of scenario that these driverless trucks are taking over their jobs. So how do you kind of reassure these drivers, whether it’s your own drivers or any future drivers that are kind of looking over their shoulder and expecting these autonomous trucks to kind of sweep them out the door?
Yogi: Well, like I said, I think it’s something that, right now, is almost like an H.G. Wells kind of feeling to it, like that we’ll never see that. Some people may have said that about the cell phone, and look what we’re holding in our hands now. I can remember years ago carrying the big box around with me. Like I said, I think as far as in the United States with the infrastructure, I don’t think, other than maybe treating like a train type thing, where it’s very straightforward, but in the cities and so forth, they’re gonna need drivers for that, no matter what. Just for the fact, if anything’s ever changing because of the weather, the machine can’t tell if a road, you know, how to handle a truck on a snowy road. It can have the antilock, everything like that, but I think it just takes the driver’s smarts to be able to do that to be safe. I really don’t get a lot of conversation with guys on that, it’s more so, I’ll call it water cooler talk, you know, we joke about it and so forth, but I think probably as you see more, I don’t wanna say advertisement, but more tests being done, especially with just the cars themselves, with all the issues that they’re having with that, now they have a couple that are, you know, in certain cities that are doing that but end up having issues with them. I think a lot of it is gonna be the public, too, is gonna have a problem with it. Again, perceiving that, are they safe? There’s nobody actually controlling the vehicle, so if something were to go wrong, and I’ll use an example, a blown tire. Will the computer that’s running the truck know what to do versus somebody that’s actually in the truck and can see the situation? So I think, not only are they going to have to convince the drivers, they’re gonna have to convince the public that this is gonna be something that is going to be viable in the future.
Connor: Right, absolutely. I don’t know if you saw, there was a video posted somewhere, and it was kind of like a staged event where they put a driver in a chair, but they covered him up so that people couldn’t see if he was in the truck himself, and there were people kind of freaking out about it, even though there was still a guy controlling it. So that’s a really good point, you know? The public’s not ready for it maybe even more so than the industry isn’t ready for it, so it’s a good comment to make.
Yogi: Yeah like I said, you see all the tests, I’ve seen and read some articles in Europe. I don’t know if they’re really doing any testing here in the United States, other than maybe some small stuff, but I think they’ve gotta get to the point where the trucks are more attractive. And again, it comes down to that “cool” factor. We’re gonna have to start attracting the younger folks to start climbing into trucks because most of the guys you’re seeing now out there driving are in their 50s and 60s, and they’re not going to be able to drive forever, so we have to do something. And with technology, and I’m gonna age myself, with the kids now, they love technology, so as the trucks get more technology in them, that may attract them and if they can do something on that level at least, with onboard navigation and again, onboard entertainment for the guys that are over the road that stop in truck stops or wherever. Many years ago when I drove, I was all excited when I had a little black and white 13-inch TV in my truck. Nowadays, there’s no way that would happen.
Connor: Yeah, definitely sounds like it’s about striking that balance between new technology and older drivers, really. So do you think, if given the chance, A&S Kinard would ever consider implementing any of the self-driving technology, or is it too early to say yet?
Yogi: I think it’s too early to say, and in our level, as far as what we do, we’re more of a regional carrier and a local carrier, so we’re into a lot of the local cities like Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York, so again, I think that would be something way too complicated for something like that because it still takes a driver to figure out how to get into downtown Philly. Which, if you talk to a lot of drivers, Philadelphia was never made for trucks, so that’s something they would have to consider also. But like I said, I think it’s too far in the future to really even say when that would happen. As time goes, when it first started with the electronic logs, a lot of companies said “we’re not gonna go to that,” well, coming up in December, they’re not going to have a choice.
Connor: Alright, so that’s all the questions we have for you today. Is there anything that you’d like to tell our listeners about A&S Kinard and your company in general?
Yogi: Just that we’re actually based out of here in York, Pennsylvania. We have a lot of dedicated opportunities, a lot of local opportunities within the York-Baltimore-Harrisburg-Philadelphia area, and then also outlying opportunities too in Columbus, Ohio, up in Syracuse, New York, and down in Richmond, Virginia. But again, we’re one of the companies that are local. 75% of our guys are local, the other 25% are regional of some type, and our regional guys normally are almost treated like local drivers because they’re back every other day or every third day. So if you ever are interested, please give us a call, we’d love to hear from you.
Troy: Alright well thank you, we appreciate that, Yogi, and you’re always welcome on the show anytime.
Yogi: Okay great, Troy. I do appreciate it. I could tell you that the video you did here a couple months ago, we still get hits on that. It causes a lot of entertainment around here, I will tell you that.
Troy: Awesome! Well we appreciate it! And again, that’s Yogi Krieger from A&S Kinard.
Connor: Yogi, thanks for coming on the show.
Yogi: Alright take care, guys.
Connor: Alright and again, big thanks to Don Krieger for taking the time to talk to us there. It’s a lot of good information and again, it’s really about setting drivers’ minds at ease and priming them for ways they prepare and get involved with this transition, really expand their careers in the process. I think that’s kind of the point I hear a lot of people trying to make is that don’t be afraid of it, really try to embrace this where you can and find opportunities for yourself as a driver, because it’s somewhat inevitable, and it’s gonna happen, so if you don’t get with the technology it might get you. So, now to talk a little bit more about the safety aspects of this issue, and maybe go a little bit more into how trucking companies are preparing for this themselves, and some of the things they’re doing to educate the community. We have Lee Koon of Terminal Transport, he’s the director of safety and recruiting, and he took the time to talk to us from Minnesota. Here’s that interview.
Connor: Okay, so we’re here with Lee Koon, director of safety and recruiting at Terminal Transport. Lee, thanks so much for coming on the show and joining us back on BigRigBanter.
Lee: Thank you! It’s a pleasure.
Connor: So to start here, could you tell listeners a little bit about your background with Terminal Transport and how you got involved in the autonomous trucking issue?
Lee: One of the things that has happened to me in the industry is, I’ve been in it for a long time in one capacity or another. I’m currently in a safety management position. I also take care of all the recruiting, I also take care of all the truck repairs and so on and so forth. The point is, a lot of the drivers were coming to me going, “Look, is my job going to be eliminated?” because of this autonomous truck information that they were hearing via the internet or on the radio or whatever else, and so I made it a point to get involved and try to figure out what was actually going on in that industry and how close we were. So in amongst all that, I was asked to join a task force here in the state of Minnesota with the Minnesota Trucking Association to kind of do some more background on what’s going on with the automated trucks and what’s real; what’s the good information that’s out there, what’s the bad information that’s out there, and what we as an industry need to do to get prepared for that.
Connor: Right, right. So what are some of the concerns that drivers are talking about with these automated trucks? Have you heard anything on the ground there?
Lee: Absolutely. A lot of drivers within the industry, they hear the word “autonomous” and they automatically jump to the conclusion that that means that a truck is going to leave Los Angeles, drive itself across the country, back itself into a dock in Boston, and it’s going to be unloaded and then go off to its next stop or whatever, and this truck is never going to have to take a break, live with the hours of service situation, or any of those rules, and we are decades, probably, away from that actually happening. I think when the word “autonomous” gets used, there’s a lot of misconceptions, and that has been, in my experience, one of the big things is to try to educate the drivers and get them to understand that that is not what “autonomous” means by any stretch. There’s actually 5 levels of autonomous trucks, and what they’re talking about is levels 3, 4, and 5. We’re pretty far from where we’re ever going to see a 4 or 5. Right now we’re delving into the area of 2, and making that transition from the second to the third grade is a pretty big obstacle for the whole industry. So that’s probably closer than where we’re really expecting. It is there, it’s going to happen, and it’s just a matter of when. When we start getting into fully automated trucks and what the drivers are concerned about, we’re probably, realistically, years away from that happening.
Connor: Well that’s definitely good to know. Hopefully, it can reassure some of our listeners out there and other truckers on the road. But you talked about the different levels of the autonomous trucks and with levels 1 and 2, what are the current impacts that maybe drivers could be experiencing now?
Lee: A good analogy and a good way to think about autonomous trucking in these separate levels is that you’ve gotta think about it now like a cruise control setting on your dashboard. So, your level 1 is your driver assistance, so the driver has to be right there, in the seat, and the driver has to be making all the decisions for the truck, basically. Level 2, that’s a partial automation, that’s when the truck can get out on the open road and can kind of drive itself, but the driver is still there and still has to make that decision: should I take this thing off autopilot because I have bad weather in front of me, or I have a construction zone that I’m entering, or whatever the case may be. The driver still makes that decision about whether they’re going to use the autonomous function on their tractor. That’s kind of where we’re getting into right now. There’s a lot of technology out there. I think the drivers have seen all these things. What the autonomous world is trying to do is tie all these different things together. For instance, you have lane departure software out there, which will keep the truck in the lane. There’s cameras all over these trucks now that are sensing and can see a pedestrian maybe walking down the side of a curb or something. All these different technologies are being tied into this autonomous world and so the drivers, I think, are seeing a lot of those individual pieces that go into the bigger puzzle, so that’s what they’re experiencing right now on the road.
Troy: How do you reassure these drivers about what’s being called a driverless future? I know you’ve talked about it a little, that you kind of make it a point to reach out to these truckers and talk, but how do you put their minds at ease if you will?
Lee: Well I think a big part of it is to tell them how exciting this is, and that they’re going to be part of this transition into this autonomous world, and that they’re very much a player in this
game. That they’re not going to lose their jobs, that they are probably going to be even more specialized. There’s opportunities galore within this industry. We’re in a serious time of growth and as an industry; we have to reassure the drivers that they’re a part of this. We’re not sitting in the offices making these decisions and trying to figure out how to get rid of the driver, we’re trying to figure out how to envelop the whole structure of the entire trucking industry with drivers being at the forefront of that, and how we’re going to make this all work together for all of us, and I think there’s a great opportunity here for the drivers. I go back to another analogy, if we will, about Captain Sully and landing that plane in the Hudson River. We all know that airplanes are fully automated. Once that plane is off the ground 1,000 feet or whatever, that pilot is hitting autopilot and that thing flies itself to the next airport. Captain Sully’s situation was, the information that the airplane was giving him, he questioned it, and he had to make a human judgment, and he took that autopilot off and he actually set that plane down in the Hudson. And we all know the story, we didn’t have fatalities, we didn’t have a huge plane crash on our hands. I think it’s important for drivers to think about their truck driving future being like that. You’ve got autonomous trucks, these trucks are gonna drive themselves to an extent, I want to qualify that, but they are going to be still monitoring a lot of systems in their trucks. They’re going to have to become a little tech-savvy about what’s going on and how to monitor the different systems within the trucks. They’re still gonna have to get out there and make sure that truck is pre-tripped and post-tripped, making sure that these things are in order and all these systems are working correctly. They are still going to be the captain of their ship, and I think that that’s really important when we’re trying to get the drivers to understand that there’s a great future for them in this industry. If they latch onto that technology, there’s a place for them.
Troy: So do you think you’ll ever utilize any forms of self-driving or autonomous technology, or are you using it in your fleet currently? What’s the status on that?
Lee: The situation for me personally is that we do have some of these functions, so we have lane departure in some of our trucks, we have some of these different systems, I’m not going to go into them, there’s a long list of them, but we have bits and pieces of these complete systems. When you get into autonomous like I was explaining before, that all gets tied together in the autonomous world, and I think that when all that is tied together, it works a lot more efficiently, but right now we’re not at a place where all that’s getting tied together and working. We’re not all pulling from the same end of the rope, I guess. We have these separate systems. We have lane departure, and I keep going back to that one as an example because most drivers know what that is, and that’s a standalone system right now today, but it’s a matter of trying to tie all those things together and making it easier for the driver and more efficient and less stressful for them driving down the road. And that’s really what it’s all about; it’s about driver comfort.
Connor: Absolutely, yeah. So, just to kind of wrap things up here, would you be able to tell us a little bit more about the Minnesota Task Force for trucks, and maybe some of the outreach and any events you guys have coming up?
Lee: Sure. Here’s what we’ve kind of done. We have a lot of owners and different people within the industry with years and years of experience and a lot of different backgrounds that have come in together as a task force, and we are meeting approximately once every couple of weeks right now. We’ve been an information-gathering crusade of sorts. We’re trying to learn from manufacturers and things about what technology is out there. What’s really going on within this industry? Because one of the big mistakes that I personally have seen is that when drivers hear about autonomous cars, they just assume that that’s the same thing coming with autonomous trucks, and those are two very different atmospheres. So the task force is looking at just the trucks and we’re trying to separate out what’s really going on with all this and trying to educate the drivers, educate our shippers and receivers, educate our industry, so much as even up to our lawmakers. That’s kind of where we’re headed, trying to get everyone on the same page and to understand this and to not be afraid of that technology. So that’s kind of what our task force is doing right now. We’ve met with a couple of manufacturers that are delved into this pretty extensively. I was very impressed with Daimler, and there are a couple of other ones, but they were talking a lot about the safety, and safety is the forefront of this whole technology, and if it can’t be done safely, we can’t proceed with it; our public roads are not a place to use as a lab, but that they are really committed to making sure that this can be done safely, and I was very impressed with what some of the manufacturers are able to accomplish, and that they understand that that has to be such a big part of that part of the industry. That’s part of this whole autonomous truck thing. If it can’t be done safely, then it’s not worth doing at all.
Lee: That’s very much what we’ve learned so far as a task force. We’ve got some other things that we still want to get into, some more information gathering, but once we get all that information, then we’re going to move forward with what we need to do to educate our industry, our shippers, our receivers, our drivers, our back office people, to get them all acclimated and on-board so that, when this does come to the front and it becomes a real part of our everyday trucking experience, we’re all prepared for that.
Connor: Right on. Well Lee, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. Again, we always gain a lot from these interviews, so we’ll definitely keep tabs on this issue moving forward here, and it’s really good to know that these robotic trucks and autonomous things are not going to put drivers out of work, and can hopefully help them thrive.
Lee: It’s a very exciting time to be in our industry, that’s for sure.
Connor: And again, thanks to Lee there for giving us all that great information and insight. Hope you guys gained a lot out of that interview. Again, trying to put your minds at ease but also prepare you for this future. If Lee’s voice sounded familiar there that’s because he’s from our previous episode on the driver shortage, which you can go check out, and really, that kind of brings us around to talk about that topic in another way. People think, again, that these autonomous trucks are going to be taking jobs, whereas it might be the opposite case. Becoming more specialized in the industry might provide more opportunities for drivers to make higher wages if they’re specialized in operating these trucks.
Troy: Yeah, and they think these trucks could almost fill the gap of the driver shortage to just help the whole industry run smoothly and when the whole industry runs smoothly that benefits all truckers.
Connor: Yeah, it may have an effect on curbing some of the current issues and struggles with having fewer drivers who are qualified if these new opportunities arise, to really take advantage of this technology. That could be an easy way for a lot of people, first of all, to be entering the driving industry and also for older drivers and people who have been in the industry for a while to up their skills and hopefully make more money. You know, it’s a trade-off, but you gotta bend with technology, it’s not going to stop anytime soon so really, our message is, I guess, don’t be afraid to try and take advantage of this and make as much money as you can in the process. Speaking of which, if you need to find driving jobs now, you can always check out our site AllTruckJobs.com. We have lots of jobs that are ready to go, you can just click there by your driver type, location, and that’s our daily plug for that. Anyway, I think we’re going to start to switch gears a little bit here and talk about some recent news topics. Troy, what do you have for us first?
Troy: Yeah Connor, in our first news topic I’m going to talk about a road rage incident that went down last week in Kansas City, Missouri. Unfortunately, numerous media reports say a driver who’s not been identified was cut by flying glass after several shots were fired by the driver of a gold GMC pickup truck. We don’t really know the full details of what happened during the incident, what caused this road rage incident, but essentially a driver in a gold pickup truck shot at a trucker that was on the road, and this kind of just reiterates that obviously, how you interact with people on the road is important. I know you truckers kind of have the upper hand when it comes to these large vehicles, but it’s still very dangerous when it comes to road rage incidents and you really never know who is driving beside you or who’s with you on the road there. So that’s always important. Not to aggravate these incidents and up the intensity, because it can turn deadly. There’s been many cases, even another incident in North Carolina, that a motorist blasted them with pepper spray during a highway encounter and that was earlier in October. Connor, I know you were looking at the economic side of the driver shortage and the Wall Street Journal actually had an article that we posted, and it got a lot of buzz on our AllTruckJobs Facebook page when we posted it.
Connor: Absolutely, and that article is titled “Shortage of Drivers may Weigh on Earnings of Trucking Companies.” This article talks about how the freight market has picked up as manufacturing activity expands, and retailers restock inventories in advance of the holiday season, which is quickly approaching. Four higher truck tonnage jumped 8.2 percent in August, compared with the same time in 2016, according to seasonally adjusted figures from the American Trucking Associations. Meanwhile, trucking capacity has tightened after a long stretch when too many big rigs were competing for cargo. Hurricane relief efforts in Texas and Florida have exacerbated the crunch, diverting trucks from many regions and sending prices soaring on the spot market. According to Steven’s Incorporated, analyst Brad Delco says, “You’ll hear a lot about the driver shortage, empty trucks, and declining fleet count during the third quarter earnings,” though he says, “the trucks that had drivers in the seats, I’m not sure they were as busy as they could be.” So it seems just kind of like a little industry hiccup here with all of our current events and things, but the driver shortage is still alive and well, and it’s something that we’re actively trying to talk about on our show and help solve with AllTruckJobs.com.
Connor: Alright so if you’ve stuck around this long in the show, we know this was a lengthier one than maybe some of our other shows in the past, but it is now time for our Fun Topic section. We’re bringing it back just in time for the Thanksgiving season here. So, Troy, we’re gonna start off with a little bit of turkey truckin’ trivia: the triple T, the triple threat. Are you ready for this? I’m gonna ask you some questions about the numbers involved with hauling Thanksgiving goods. Think you’re feeling up to this challenge?
Troy: Yeah I think I can manage that. I know I didn’t do so good on our trucker verbiage trivia challenge last time, but I’m feeling like I’m going to redeem myself.
Connor: Alright, that’s the positivity we need around here. So, according to estimates by the National Turkey Foundation, how many turkeys do you think are consumed on Thanksgiving every year?
Troy: Alright, well I know each of us at least consumes one, so that’s two, so it’s definitely more than two, I’m gonna guess about 50 million.
Connor: So you’re pretty close there actually! Except that’s only on Thanksgiving itself. 46 million turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving Day, which means that 20% of the total 228 million turkeys consumed each year are eaten on Thanksgiving, so that’s a huge portion of them, but we sure do eat a lot of those weird little birds, I’ll tell you that much. Alright, so you’re pretty close with that one. The price is not right though because you went over, so can’t give you the point on that guy. Next, the American Farm Bureau Federation calculates that the average Thanksgiving meal costs how much for a family of ten?
Troy: Wow, a family of ten. I am going to… I do not have that big of a family, it’s usually just four of us, but I’m going to guess it costs about $220.
Connor: Again, the price is not right, it only costs the average family $50 to feed ten people, that’s $5 per head. I guess it’s because you’re buying a lot of these foods in larger quantities so it might be in bulk. Yeah, so that includes the standard meal most people eat. It’s turkey, stuffing, rolls, sweet potatoes, green peas, fresh cranberries, carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream…I’m getting excited here. But yeah, $50 for a family of ten, that sounds pretty good. I don’t know that that’s necessarily what people actually spend, but on average it’s apparently what the American Farm Bureau Federation has calculated. Alright so now for our next question, this is a little bit more transportation-related. Any look at Thanksgiving by the numbers would be lacking if travel went unmentioned. Americans expend a lot of effort to go back home and spend the holiday with their families. According to the American Automobile Association, how many estimated Americans traveled at least 50 miles to reach their Thanksgiving destination last year? How many would you think?
Troy: Hmm, that’s a good question. Myself, I know I don’t travel that much, but I assume that a lot of people do to visit friends and family. It’s a great time of year to travel, so I’m gonna guess about 150 million.
Connor: Oh, the price is not right. It’s actually way less than that. 46.9 million people hit the road. I’m wondering, though, if they actually account truckers in that, because inevitably they’re driving home to make it to Thanksgiving with their families, if possible at least.
Troy: Alright 0 for 3, 0 for 3…
Connor 0 for 3…Alright, final question here. And you know holiday shopping season is coming up and truckers are very much to thank for getting all those shiny new products to shelves in the pre-Christmas rush, but for the entire holiday shopping season from Thanksgiving to Christmas, how much do you think the average American spends, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation?
Troy: I’m gonna guess about $280.
Connor: No that is, again, not correct. You’re really striking out here. It’s $802 on average, that’s how much the average American spends during this holiday season, so you can really understand why Black Friday is such a huge thing and why a lot of marketing efforts, a lot of transportation efforts, are all centered around this coming season here. So, that was our turkey trivia for this year! Troy unfortunately didn’t earn his stripes in this one.
Troy: Yeah, yeah…Alright and that’s all we have to our show. We thank you again for listening and we thank Lee Koon and Don Krieger again for their insightful interviews.
Connor: Absolutely! And join us next time for some winter driving tips.
Troy Thunder: *coughing*
Connor: Wait, what’s going on? Hey, you can’t just barge in here, man.
Troy Thunder: Is this thing on? Testing… Alright you goofy giblets, it’s Troy Thunder here making his grand return, thanks for the invite, Connor.
Connor: Uh, no problem…yeah…
Troy Thunder: Alright well anyway, I’m back here with some more workout tips. Luckily for you dweebs, I’ve got three more workout tips that will help you get in shape after you spend your day stuffing your gullets full of turkey and mashed potatoes. Alright, number one, Troy Thunder workout tip to help you get *thunder* charged up is the galloping gobbler. Connor, you know what that is.
Connor: I actually don’t…at all…
Troy Thunder: Galloping gobbler is you just take off running. Get that turkey bouncing around in that gullet and just start galloping like a good ol’ turkey. Alright, number two is the cranberry crunches, similar to abs in the cab if you haven’t already checked out that viral video which I’m sure you already have. Cranberry crunches are gonna help you get those abs in shape, knock off that sweet potato pie, and make sure you’re looking fit and healthy like yours truly. Alright Connor, you know what number three is, throwing the pigskin around. Connor, back in the day I was actually a Heisman trophy winner, held a few records in my day.
Connor: That’s definitely not true…
Troy Thunder: But anyway, Connor and I like to throw the pigskin every now and then from time to time. That’s what I’m gonna encourage you giblets to do. I want you to go out there, toss that pigskin around like Troy Aikman, and pretend you’re in the Super Bowl on Thanksgiving. I’m out.
Connor: Okay…thank you Troy Thunder for just barging in here and taking over the podcast for a little bit. I…guess that’s okay.
Troy: That guy’s a weirdo.
Connor: He’s really weird, I can’t get used to him. Anyway, next time we’re going to be talking about some winter driving tips, and be sure to like and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and find us on Facebook and Twitter at BigRigBanter. I’m your co-host, Connor Smith.
Troy: And I’m Troy Diffenderfer.
Connor: And this has been BigRigBanter.
Music – Thanks for tuning into another edition of BigRigBanter. For your next job, check out AllTruckJobs.com, the premier online source for finding the best driver jobs in the country. Browse hundreds of positions by freight or driver type to get back on the road with confidence. Click “subscribe” to keep the conversations coming. Until next time on BigRigBanter.