According to recent reports, trucking companies are preparing to invest in driverless technology which could cut costs by nearly half and improve safety. The trucking company Toll Group has already kitted out many of its 3,000 vehicles with semi-autonomous gadgetry like lane-change sensors and cruise control. Toll and other trucking firms are flying to the Netherlands in April to watch a driverless truck trial. The country wants autonomous road trains sending cargo from Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest port, throughout the continent by 2019. Early efforts in the field are focused on ‘platooning’, where trucks cut wind resistance and lower fuel costs by travelling in close procession. A manned front vehicle controls gas and brakes for the others using radio signals. Other benefits can also be attained from going fully driverless. Removing driver compartments will allow for more cargo space and the elimination of air conditioning units. There will also be no need for rest stops, meaning trucks can continue driving until they reach their destinations. The cuts in wage and fuel bills could be very significant. The US road freight business alone was worth $700bn (£489bn) in 2014, according to the American Trucking Associations.
Amazon.com is now eyeing the high seas in its pursuit to handle more of the logistics of package delivery. The move speaks to the company’s broader ambitions to take the reins of shipping and delivery from traditional players. It is rolling out its own branded semi-trucks, considering leasing cargo planes, and experimenting with drones to get packages to customers quickly and inexpensively.
Today, a hodge-podge of companies are duking it out for the highly fragmented $160 billion business of arranging cargo shipments, meaning Amazon could potentially pick up market share quickly. As a result, a host of startups are also trying to modernize freight forwarding, and have picked up Silicon Valley venture-capital backing. Those startups include Flexport, which in August landed a $20 million funding round.