A while back I mused about the possibility of driverless trucks that performed only the middle part of long-haul journeys. Basically, they’d operate from depot to depot, with ordinary human-driven vans filling in for the last mile of local delivery. Apparently this future is nearly here for Walmart:
As the buzz about human-carting robo-taxis starts to short-circuit, an unheralded segment of the driverless future is taking shape and showing promise: goods-moving robo-vans. Rather than serving up hot pizza pies or deploying headless robots to carry groceries to the doorstep, robo-vans travel on fixed routes from warehouse to warehouse or to a smaller pickup point, transporting packages to get them closer, but not all the way, to consumers.
This may be the least glamorous part of the driverless delivery business, but the market for these monotonous “middle miles” could reach $1 trillion and may provide the fastest path to prosperity, analysts say….Driving the demand is the boom in online shopping that has helped cause a severe shortage of truck drivers that tops 60,000 unfilled long-haul positions, according to the American Trucking Assns. That has sent costs soaring for a job that is among the most dangerous because of the risk of wrecks and long periods spent on the road.
“This middle mile is the most expensive part of the whole supply chain; it’s a huge pain point,” said Gautam Narang, CEO of Gatik, which is attempting to automate Walmart’s “hub and spoke” warehouse system. “This fills a big gap in the market.”
Does this count as driverless cars “taking away” jobs? Yep. By itself it’s not a huge threat to trucking jobs, but it will be pretty soon. There are about 2 million long-haul truckers in the US, and I’ll bet that half of them will be out of work by 2025.