A long time ago, in an pre-COVID-19 era, we at TopMark Funding wrote about how we think autonomous trucks will not replace the human driver for well over a decade. While our opinion of that still remains very much true, it is still possible that level 4 autonomous trucking may just be around the corner.
TuSimple believes that it will have level 4 autonomous trucks for sale by the end of 2024. Does this mean now is the time to exit driving in the trucking industry? Not at all. There are six levels of autonomous driving, as we have covered before when covering level 4 trucks:
- Zero: fully manual. You might think of this as the common, everyday vehicle, but an overwhelming majority of vehicles created after 1990 are higher than this.
- One: mostly manual. Automatic transmission and cruise control are the first features that come to mind at level one. The work is still done by the driver, the work is just easier.
- Two: somewhat manual. The benchmark for this is the ability to have hands off the steering wheel for any period of time without risk, such as being able to detect lane markers and stay in between them, and neighboring vehicles.
- Three: somewhat automatic. The difference between levels two and three is the sophistication of the technology. While two is for any set of time, three is for long enough that the driver has the reasonable expectation to be able to do something else, such as reading or texting.
- Four: mostly automatic. The vehicle can drive itself in most conditions, including city streets and highways, but may be unable to maneuver in rare circumstances, such as road work or huge influxes of pedestrians, such as near a stadium arena.
- Five: fully automatic. Essentially a pipe dream for now, level 5 would entail a vehicle being as adaptable, if not more adaptable, than a human. Dirt roads and icy inclines are no problem at this level. Level 5 is most commonly noted by a lack of a steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, and other options for driver control.
The level 4 trucks that TuSimple touts that it will be selling in the next 500 days or so are designed with specific roadways in mind. Anyone who has traveled Interstate 5 or on the long, straight, and flat highways of Arizona can attest to how little deviation there is in the road. Essentially, if a driver can fantasize about jerry-rigging a system of ropes to keep the wheel in place for driving, one of these trucks may just be able to do that.
Trucking will still have a decade or more before it can entirely rule out the driver. With various incidents such as mudslides, cone zones, and public events full of people such as sports games, there is still a long way to go before trucking becomes fully automatic. For the time being, however, if TuSimple reaches its goal, the more interesting trips such as those through Donner Pass will be reserved for humans.
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