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Trucking's Future Now - Freight Infrastructure Logo

From self-diagnosing and autonomous vehicles to smart phones that analyze driver health and wellness, technology is poised to vastly change the trucking landscape. An exclusive multimedia report from the editors of Commercial Carrier Journal, Overdrive, Successful Dealer and Truck Parts & Service, Trucking’s Future Now will explore what the next decades hold for trucking and what innovations will drive rapid change. In this section, editors hone in on how technological advances will change the future for freight infrastructure.

Freight Infrastructure Introduction

Are we on a path toward global highways?

How will the Panama Canal Expansion affect freight patterns?

Will ‘smart’ infrastructure end congestion?

Will bigger, heavier trucks increase competitiveness?

How will demographics, consumer demands affect freight?

Will drones and robots deliver the goods?

Is the future of inspections wireless?

Will trucking ever be ‘Uber’-ized?

Trucking’s Future Now: Equipment/Technology

Trucking’s Future Now: Workforce

Trucking's Future Now - Freight Infrastructure Logo

Drones, on-demand deliveries and the promise of global roadways

IMAGINE A DAY when a 91,000-pound autonomous truck picks up a load of wheat in North Dakota, travels west across Canada into Alaska and over the newly completed Bering Strait Crossing, and then reaches its destination in Russia.

It’s hard to envision such a scenario when the current political climate makes even maintaining our existing infrastructure difficult. Yet, futurists highlight the increasing globalization of our economy and the need for trucking to find ever more efficient ways to meet the freight demands of the world’s population over the coming decades.

Over the next 11 years alone, the American Trucking Associations predicts U.S. freight tonnage will increase 28.6 percent. While trucking remains the dominant mode of freight transportation, its share dips slightly as pipelines pick up a bigger piece due to huge growth in energy production.

Technology’s role in developing the freight infrastructure to meet that demand is large and growing and could encompass everything from delivery-by-drone to Uber-like parcel delivery solutions, experts say. Already, countries such as Japan are finding new ways to meet consumer needs, says Sandeep Kar with Frost & Sullivan. There, commuters stepping off the train are faced with an LCD screen advertising groceries. “You tap the screen, order your groceries and give them your address,” Kar says. “By the time you get home, it’s delivered.”

What advancements are in store for moving tomorrow’s freight is anybody’s guess. What’s certain is we must embrace some combination of technology and infrastructure improvements to keep the United States competitive in an increasingly connected global economy.

– LINDA LONGTON

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Are we on a path toward global highways?

Trucking's Future Now - Infrastructure - Bridge Expansion

Mega-projects with intercontinental bridges could have huge implications for trucking.

“WE ARE MOVING TOWARD an era of mega-projects,” says futurist Thomas Frey, pointing to four primary bridge projects under discussion now that could connect the planet in previously inconceivable ways.

“We’ll finish the Pan-American Highway with a 25-mile bridge over the Darien Gap in Panama,” Frey says, referring to the 30,000-mile route that stretches from Prudhoe Bay, U.S., to Ushuaia, Argentina, and the 60-mile stretch of rainforest that, due to environmental concerns, is its only missing link. “If we were actually able to connect that stretch, we would see trucks hauling freight back and forth between North and South America and could potentially double the size of the trucking industry.”

Frey also cites another bridge project in Gibraltar that would connect Europe with Africa, another to connect Japan and Korea and the potential for a land bridge across the Bering Sea connecting Alaska and Russia.

Such mega-projects could have huge implications for trucking and advancing the middle classes around the globe, says Frost & Sullivan’s Sandeep Kar.

“In that scenario, the United States, with its already-advanced factory farms, will feed the world,” Kar says. “In 50 years, it might not be at all unusual for an autonomous truck to leave a farm with a load of grain and drive all the way to Russia.”

– JACK ROBERTS

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How will the Panama Canal expansion affect freight patterns?

NEXT YEAR the Panamanian government will open the new shipping channel locks as part of its nine-year $5-billion Panama Canal expansion project. whereas cargo ships with only 5,000 20-foot equivalent unit capacities can pass through the canal today, the expansion will allow “new Panamax” ships with capacities of 12,000 TEUs to reach certain east Coast ports for the first time via the 100-year-old canal system.

The impact of the canal’s larger lock system could usher in a new era of ocean freight for ports along the U.S. Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard. Various studies on the project’s impact on port activity range from 10 to 25 percent of Asia-to-North America ocean freight shifting from West Coast ports to those on the East Coast, creating the potential for increased trucking operations in the South and Northeast.

But experts say any changes in freight patterns as a result of the Panama Canal expansion will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. “It’s going to take a while to play itself out,” says David Levinson, transportation chair at the University of Minnesota. “The capacity at East Coast ports is another issue.”

Also, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report, warehouse capacity at major East Coast ports increased only 1.2 percent between 2012 and 2014, which could create major constraints.

– JEFF CRISSEY

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Will ‘smart’ infrastructure end congestion?

In the future, “trucks will be smarter, freight will be moved faster, and the whole process will be more efficient.” — Sandeep Kar, Frost & Sullivan

In the future, “trucks will be smarter, freight will be moved faster, and the whole process will be more efficient.”
— Sandeep Kar, Frost & Sullivan

FROM ELECTRONIC BEACONS in guardrails that warn vehicles to steer clear, to systems that minimize congestion by optimizing routing and traffic signals, the potential benefits of smart infrastructure abound.

And yet, “We can’t even keep our roads free of potholes,” insists the University of Minnesota’s David Levinson. “The likelihood that we’re going to make them smart is far-fetched.” The political and financial roadblocks to infrastructure investment are big reasons why the private sector has leap-frogged government, focusing on vehicle-to-vehicle versus vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, experts say.

Longer term, that must change, says Sandeep Kar of Frost & Sullivan. “Smart infrastructure that communicates with vehicles will be vital,” Kar says. “Right now, if we repave a road, we make it better, but we don’t make it ‘smarter.’” That’s why platooning and Level 3 vehicles will occur first, while Level 4 vehicles, which rely heavily on smart infrastructure, will be much farther out, he says.

When that time comes, big data will play a critical role in maximizing the possibilities, predicts Daimler’s Derek Rotz, who foresees using data to “further fine-tune the vehicles, how they’re driven and what routes they’ll take.”

While that will solve some problems, new ones will emerge, says futurist Paul Saffo. “We’ll have robot congestion” caused by people who insist on owning their own robotic cars rather than using them in Uber-like fashion, Saffo says. “Instead of worrying about a parking spot if they go to dinner in San Francisco, they will just tell their robotic car to keep driving around the city until it’s needed.”

– JACK ROBERTS

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Will bigger, heavier trucks increase competitiveness?

John Woodrooffe

“Increasing truck size and weight will level the playing field between the
U.S. and key competitors like the European Union, Canada and Mexico.”
— John Woodrooffe

NEWS FLASH: The United States has the worst truck freight efficiency of the world’s developed countries. That was the sobering finding delivered by University of Michigan professor John Woodrooffe during a panel discussion at the 2015 Commercial Vehicle Outlook in Dallas.

The reason, Woodrooffe said, is size and weight limits that have been frozen for 30 years. “The U.S. is the least productive country in the world when it comes to truck productivity,” he said.

Could vehicle automation and highly evolved telematics and connectivity change that?

The limited efficiency of the U.S. trucking industry today causes consumers and society at large to lose or lag in key areas. Just a 10 percent reduction in truck mileage, Woodrooffe said, could prevent 330 fatal truck crashes a year, cut about 30 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually and save about 10.6 billion liters of diesel. The kicker, he said, could be about a $16 billion boon to the U.S. economy.

Barring congressional action on the matter before automated vehicles become prevalent, automation could pave the way for legislation to allow larger or at least heavier vehicles on U.S. highways.

The limited efficiency of the U.S. trucking industry today causes consumers and society at large to lose or lag in key areas. Just a 10 percent reduction in truck mileage, Woodrooffe said, could prevent 330 fatal truck crashes a year, cut about 30 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually and save about 10.6 billion liters of diesel. The kicker, he said, could be about a $16 billion boon to the U.S. economy.

– JAMES JAILLET

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How will demographics, consumer demands affect freight?

Trucking's Future Now - Infrastructure - Transportation Hub

Under a ‘hub-and-spoke’ system, large trucks will move freight between mega-cities, with smaller trucks taking it from there.

DELIVERY OF CONSUMER GOODS is headed back to the future, with a resurgence of signal-based or on-demand delivery systems akin to leaving your empty milk bottles on the front step, says David Levinson with the University of Minnesota. For instance, Amazon Dash is a computer chip button you press to send an alert when your laundry detergent is running low and have a refill delivered to your door. In many large cities, you already can have groceries delivered – sometimes within the hour.

“Historically, people went out shopping and brought stuff home,” Levinson says. “They were essentially their own logistics providers for the last mile.” But as online retail grows to 10 percent of sales and higher, the last mile of shipping will be more significant. He believes we’ve reached “peak big box” and that Wal-Mart or Target eventually might become less stores and more warehouses for order fulfillment by a third party and perhaps even a robot or drone.

Such changes will be more prevalent within the next 20 to 30 years when 70 percent of the global population will live in urban areas, says Frost & Sullivan’s Sandeep Kar, who envisions a hub-and-spoke system “with large trucks moving freight from mega-city to mega-city, and then smaller trucks taking it from there.”

Driving these advancements will be an aging population that will demand front-door delivery and younger consumers whose world is run by smartphones and wearables, Kar says.

– LINDA LONGTON, JEFF CRISSEY AND JACK ROBERTS

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Will drones and robots deliver the goods?

THEY ALREADY DO says technology forecaster Paul Saffo. While a robotics company in Tijuana uses drones to deliver parts several times a day between manufacturing plants, other applications are not exactly legal. “Our customs enforcement is catching a couple of drones a week trying to move cocaine across the border,” he says.

Before long, Saffo says, companies will deliver high-value goods such as (legal) drugs via drones, especially “in the developing world where you don’t have the infrastructure” to make conventional deliveries efficiently. The biggest roadblocks to faster adoption of delivery-by-drone in the United States are regulatory and legal, experts say. Rules proposed in February by the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial drone use forbid them from carrying any external weight, such as a package, and require the operator to keep their drones in sight at all times.

David Levinson, transportation chair at the University of Minnesota, imagines a time when robots will deliver goods to peoples’ homes. “This assumes robots will be able to be mass-manufactured with these skills for a reasonable price, which we’re sort of taking as a given,” Levinson says. Robotic deliveries have the potential to drive labor costs out of the system, which could make many items that are cost-prohibitive today more affordable, he says.

Whether it’s drones or robots, Saffo says, the “logistics chain is going to become a lot more intelligent and ever more complex.”

– LINDA LONGTON, JACK ROBERTS AND WAYNE GRAYSON

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Is the future of inspections wireless?

“We’ll have sensors on certain things that will throw a red flag for a closer look.” – Jay Thompson, Transportation Business Associates

“We’ll have sensors on certain things that will throw a red flag for a closer look.”
– Jay Thompson, Transportation Business Associates

WITH ONBOARD SENSORS already monitoring a truck’s critical safety systems and telematics units becoming more prevalent, the answer, experts say, is yes.

Within 15 years, a truck passing a scale or a mobile enforcement unit could record an automatic clean – or not-so-clean – inspection in state and federal systems, says
Jay Thompson of Transportation Business Associates. Such systems could help correct problems more quickly while reducing hassles that come with today’s roadside inspections.

The goal of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Wireless Roadside Inspection program – set to launch a multistate test before yearend – is to increase the number of inspections by retrieving real-time safety data at roadside without direct interaction between the driver and law enforcement. “It will give a recommendation to the inspector at the site to either inspect or don’t inspect,” says Steve Vaughn of PrePass provider Help Inc.

While automating inspection procedures where possible also has been discussed, concerns remain – especially when it comes to privacy. “How much data collected by automated roadside systems on carriers will be made available to the public?” Vaughn asks.

Others fear the federal government is building a system that could compete with existing privately-held systems such as PrePass and Drivewyze that perform some of the same functions. “Is that the appropriate federal role?” asks Steve Keppler, formerly with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

Congress is considering these issues, including whether to continue funding for the program. But as regulations continue to eat into carrier productivity, wireless inspections might be one way to give a little back.

– TODD DILLS

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Will trucking ever be ‘Uber’-ized?

“Uberization is a way to get people to concentrate on what the inefficiencies are in communicating capacity and demand.”  — Steve Sashihara, president and chief executive officer of Princeton Consultants

“Uberization is a way to get people to concentrate on what the inefficiencies are in communicating capacity and demand.”
— Steve Sashihara, president and chief executive officer of Princeton Consultants

APP-BASED CAR SERVICE UBER turned the taxi business upside down seemingly overnight, and a bevy of apps have been released in recent years claiming to be “the Uber of trucking.”

Which begs the question: Will there be an app that changes commercial freight movement as much as Uber has changed personal transportation? Maybe, but not in the same way that it changed the taxi business, says Steve Sashihara, president and chief executive officer of Princeton Consultants.

“Uberization,” used in a broader sense, will work its way into the trucking industry in the form of gleaning extra productivity out of carriers and drivers, says Sashihara. “Uberization is a way to get people to concentrate on what the inefficiencies are in communicating capacity and demand,” he says.

Ivan Tsybaev of freight-matching app Trucker Path doesn’t like the “Uber of trucking” descripion of such services. “There are some companies saying, ‘We’re going to eliminate brokers from the supply chain,’” Tsybaev says, but that’s not the reality. The goal is simply to “optimize the experience.”

There’s nothing new about using technology to connect shippers and carriers; the earliest Web-based loadboards came about in the mid-1990s and continue to evolve today.

Where an Uber-like model could change that, says Sashihara, is in offering more direct, automated connections for the two parties, rather than carriers or owner-operators digging through tabs of loadboards of shipper- or broker-posted freight.

Like other looming changes in the industry, the potential spark for uberization is likely the uptake of vehicle automation and telematics-based connectivity, Sashihara says, which could pave the way for automated and instantaneous freight matching.

– JAMES JAILLET AND TODD DILLS

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