One of the leading companies in both fields is Tesla, the electric car company run by tech billionaire, Elon Musk. Last week, Tesla unveiled two new vehicles. The first was the Roadster, a super sleek sports car that can go from 0 to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds. But we actually want to talk about the other vehicle they unveiled, the Tesla Semi.
The Semi is a large electric truck that is built for hauling freight. It is able to travel at top speed and full capacity for 500 miles on a single charge. That makes it a big step up from other electric trucks out there. And as you'd expect from a Tesla vehicle, it looks really cool.
On one hand, this sounds great. It's better for the environment, and it seems to be about as powerful as a diesel truck — very important when you're carrying heavy things! Major trucking companies like DHL have already ordered some of the Semis.
But did you notice that one part in the video about the vehicle's autopilot? This has a lot of industry experts interested — even if for different reasons.
Already a thing
Currently, the Semi is marketed as a truck driven by humans, with the autopilot just there as a safety precaution. However, in truth, designers are moving toward a future where the truck completely drives itself.
There are already driverless trucks hauling things like refrigerators across a few parts of the United States. Though they have human drivers on board in case of failure, it's only a matter of time before they're not needed. Fans of this style of transport make a pretty good case for removing drivers.
Machines don't get tired or distracted. Onboard sensors give them a better ability to see danger than a human, especially at night or in bad weather. Groups of trucks can be programmed to drive in a formation that cuts down on wind resistance and saves energy. And they can even be set to park and wait in poor conditions, unlike humans who tend to push forward and risk accidents.
Safer, more efficient, and more reliable. What's not to like?
What will it mean for jobs?
Well, for one, where will all of those jobs for truckers go? Currently around 3 million drive long and short range delivery trucks in the United States. According to Stats Canada, truck drivers count as 2% of Canadian jobs. It is also a great career that employs a lot of minorities in both countries. Will an electric truck like the Semi put all drivers out of a job?
It's tough to say how quickly these innovations will affect truck drivers. Companies like Tesla may be inventing some impressive vehicles, but the charging grid (basically gas stations for electric cars) is nowhere near good enough right now to support truckers. You can't drive huge distances through isolated parts of the country without any power!
And overall, there is actually a shortage of truck drivers in North America. Why? It's a really tough job, with long hours, and months spent all alone and away from loved ones. Why not leave such a demanding job to a robot? (They don't need friends or sleep!) Still, for some, it could be a bit unnerving to look over at a massive big rig on the highway and see that no one is driving.
What do you think of the driverless future of the electric truck?