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DHL Supply Chain leading the way as autonomous trucking moves from fantasy to reality

New technologies promise some relief from driver shortage, lower emissions

(Photo: DHL Supply Chain)

Autonomous trucks promise a wide array of perks for the industry, ranging from lower carbon emissions to easing labor shortages. Just a few short years ago, technologies were largely regarded as faraway possibilities. Now, cutting edge companies like DHL Supply Chain are bringing them to life on the roadways. 

“We’re doing live pilots, and I am most excited about the fact that we are going from conceptual to real,” DHL Supply Chain Senior Director of Continuous Improvement and Innovation Jason Gillespie said. “We want to work with our partners – including Embark and TuSimple – to understand their roadmaps to full autonomy.”

While drivers are still required to be in the cab of autonomous vehicles during pilots, advancements in infrastructure and changes within the regulatory environment could make full autonomy possible in the next few years. DHL Supply Chain intends to champion those efforts. 

“We want to get all the benefits: the safety, the efficiency, the green elements,” Gillespie said. “You want to look at a target date and back up from there. We need to be thinking about getting infrastructure in place during every step of the process.”

Even as these advancements are made, it is important to recognize that the introduction of autonomous vehicles is not the beginning of the end for drivers. Not only do drivers have a place in the future of trucking, their jobs are expected to become significantly more desirable.

“Drivers are going to be shifting the kind of work they’re doing,” Gillespie said. “We know they’re going to be doing the first and last mile, as well as more complicated inner city driving. The jobs don’t go away, they’re just getting better. They’re in and out every day, getting back home.” 

The harsh realities of over-the-road trucking – including significant time away from home – often dissuade potential new drivers from joining the field. This is especially true for younger drivers. As these jobs become less demanding and more attractive, the industry will likely see an increase in successful recruitment efforts.

As with any major change, some companies across the industry have proved apprehensive about autonomous trucks. This hesitancy is to be expected, and Gillespie believes there will be some customers at the tip of the spear who adopt this technology more rapidly. But it will certainly spread.

“A lot of it is psychological. It’s about confidence levels,” Gillespie said. His team is working to define, manage and monitor the right autonomous technology and network so that any customer can take advantage of the opportunity. This is certainly a shift for the industry, but one with a lot of promise. “It’s fun to think about, and it’s a lot to think about … but it’s where we need to go.”

Click here to learn more about how DHL Supply Chain is breaking through boundaries limiting its customers’ transportation supply chains.

Ashley Coker

Ashley is interested in everything that moves, especially trucks and planes. She covers air cargo, trucking and sponsored content. She studied journalism at Middle Tennessee State University and worked as an editor and reporter at two daily newspapers before joining FreightWaves. Ashley spends her free time at the dog park with her beagle, Ruth, or scouring the internet for last minute flight deals.