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Transportation Technology

Big Rigs Go High Tech 288

Posted by Soulskill
from the super-highway-information dept.
pottercw writes "Trucking may not seem like a high-tech industry to the casual observer, but major carriers are starting to adopt an array of emerging technologies to combat rising fuel costs, tighter regulation and fierce competition. The technologies include systems that monitor and communicate vehicle conditions and performance, enhanced GPSs that keep tabs on tractors and trailers, and safety systems which issue warnings or even take action to help drivers avoid an accident — all working in real time. Computerworld has a cool mouseover diagram highlighting some of the gadgets we're beginning to see on high-tech trucks."
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Big Rigs Go High Tech

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:04PM (#23513558)
    Once everyone finds out that the Semi Trucks drive themselves, the truckers' union will overthrow society!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by eln (21727)
      Nah, they'll just find some other scam like bootlegging Beanie Babies.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        That's because rail travel is the most energy-efficient we have, with respect to transporting massive amounts of materials across land. Such a comeback would require double-tracks between all pairs of destinations. And regular reliable schedules, heh.
        • If rail is so efficient, how come the price is the same for a rail trip from Boston to DC as it is for a commuter flight for the same trip?
          • by Tanktalus (794810) on Friday May 23, 2008 @12:07AM (#23514444) Journal

            Transporting 250lbs of flesh and 50lbs of luggage doesn't really show a train's ability to pull cargo cheaply since that 300lbs of cargo needs to be in a multi-ton box car with many niceties (food, water, sleeping area, toilet, possibly shower).

            Try comparing costs of carrying 100s of tons of cargo (such as grain, oil, furniture, vehicles) where the overhead of the train is a smaller percentage.

            Try even comparing the cost to the environment: both the air (burned fuel) and, for comparing with "Big Rigs" (to stay loosely on topic) the damage caused to the roadways (vs damage caused to railways) for the same load.

            I've been hoping for more railways for years...

            • by houghi (78078) on Friday May 23, 2008 @04:13AM (#23515134)
              The problem with trains is time to deliver. This is often much longer then when you do it by road. At least in Europe.
              You have both the loading and unloading still to do.

              Also trains are very interesting when you have a large load going from place A to place B. However many times you only have one or a few containers going from place A to place B. So you wll need to wait till others are going from A to B as well, because the traibn is not going to drive just for you.

              As you still need road transport from office till A and from B till the other place, the time you loose in having to be there, waiting till the whole train is loaded, waiting till the train is unloaded, waiting some more for papers, is probable too great and the road is still cheaper.

              I have seen times of a week, where via the raod is would be one day.

              We always say time is money and a week is thus a lot of money.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by notgm (1069012)
                i was under the impression that the real problem in the u.s. is that there are laws making it difficult/impossible for railroad companies to own semi-trucks, put into place to help a fledgling trucking industry at some point, and never rescinded.

                i've been searching for something to back up this theory - i heard it several years ago, but cannot find anything concrete.

              • by The Snowman (116231) * on Friday May 23, 2008 @09:44AM (#23517438) Homepage

                I live a few miles from the Ford and Chevy plants here in Cleveland. They both have multiple tracks going directly into each factory, pumping out fully loaded trains full of parts, probably driving off to other plants for assembly or further production. I would hazard a guess that they have no problem with scheduling the logistics, and I bet it is far cheaper and more efficient than trucking it out there.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by rossifer (581396)

                However many times you only have one or a few containers going from place A to place B. So you wll need to wait till others are going from A to B as well, because the traibn is not going to drive just for you.

                I used to work at a lumberyard in Dayton, Ohio that had a rail spur for deliveries of building supplies. The train did stop just for them. It would stop, cut out the two or three cars for them, then continue on. They paid for the spur to be installed, leased some rail equipment (a yard dog to maneuv

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Calinous (985536)
              Rail transport was big in my country in the past - the big manufacturing companies had rail tracks inside their yards.
              However, lacking this, railway transport means road transport to the train station, load transfer to boxcars, railway transport (which might take a while, as passenger trains have priority over cargo), then load transfer to trucks at the destination, and finally transport to destination.

              As long as your transport can take a long way on the road, and
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jellomizer (103300)
          You need to learn to ballance. Why do people think that there will be one silver bullet that will fix everything.
          They do use the rail system. Don't you see trains with rows and rows of Semi-trailers on the back? Then they take them and put them on trucks to go to their particular location.

          How ever sometimes people need it there faster then the trains can handle (Being trains are only effecent in delivering bulk products) dilivering small amounts like one tractor full would be much cheaper and quicker and ef
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by drinkypoo (153816)

            The Railroads never left.

            The rails DID leave, because funding for rails was cut in favor of spending it on the federal highway system as a system of corporate welfare designed to benefit the auto companies. Don't let history get in the way of a good argument, though.

            Obviously we still have rail, for purposes that cannot reasonably be served by truck, like feeding major concrete plants raw material or, ironically, getting materials into and cars out of automobile manufacturing plants. Oh, the humanity.

            As well we have a polital problem with rails is that noone wants them in their back yard or comunity

            And you have a spelling p

    • by BrokenHalo (565198) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @10:55PM (#23514156)
      Once everyone finds out that the Semi Trucks drive themselves...

      Most people who have only ever driven cars fail to appreciate that driving heavy trucks is actually quite a demanding job, and not one for dummies. Those rigs are expensive, and no factor that saves fuel or wear and tear can be neglected. It may be popular to label truckies as ignorant yokels, but it is a fact that they need to be quite technically astute. For instance, tyre wear alone is a huge factor when you consider the cost of replacing over 40 tyres on a multi-combination rig.

      As an aside, this reminds me of one time back in my trucking days, some idiot tried to steal my rig. He might have thought he was a shit-hot car driver, but couldn't even muster the coordination required to get the crash box into gear. He was still struggling with it when the police arrived... :-)
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Woooosh...

        Obviously you are not a fan of The Simpsons.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by couchslug (175151)
        "Most people who have only ever driven cars fail to appreciate that driving heavy trucks is actually quite a demanding job, and not one for dummies."

        Professional truckers are quite capable and skilled people, but many "truckers" aren't professional.

        I don't assume that just because someone passed a quickie driving course and got a license that they have a clue. (Lurk on a few towing forums if you want to see how much business "truckers" generate for towmen recovering the results of their mistakes!).

        Of course
  • Big Red (Score:5, Funny)

    by Wrexs0ul (515885) <mmeier&racknine,com> on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:07PM (#23513570) Homepage
    Slashdot really needs to get with the times. The Navitron Autodrive System [wikipedia.org] is nearly ten year-old news, though remains a little known secret known to many truckers falling asleep at the wheel.

    If only it could have saved poor Red from beef poisoning at Sirloin A Lot, sadly that feature was still in beta.

    -Matt

    viva Homer!
    • Re:Big Red (Score:5, Informative)

      by slashtivus (1162793) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:25PM (#23513682)
      My last neighbor (still keep in touch) was a big rig driver. He would park the corporate truck out by our small apartment complex sometimes, and let me have a look from the driver's seat. I was amazed at all of the controls and dials for every little thing: 4 exhaust temp sensors can tell you health of engine or proper gear, axle temps + oil levels, wheel pressures etc etc. This was all recorded and uploaded to corp HQ as well. Little things add up to big money when you run a trucking company, and it is really worth the little extra to purchase the extra sensors and avoid wasted fuel and prevent unneeded repairs when maintenance would do. This was 10 years ago when fuel was cheaper. Old news.
      • by cayenne8 (626475)
        Yes, but, will any of these advances help you find hookers or some meth, to help on those LONG hauls...

        :-)

        Well.....at least the hookers, not everyone does drugs.

      • by lgw (121541)
        I just hope that for the "adaptive cruise control" mentioned in TFA, trucker usage drives this technology to somehting better that we have today. Today's systems seem to go into "ZOMG I GONNA DIE" mode when ever you're on a freeway offramp or otherwise catch a safety railing in the radar while turning.

        Similarly, lane departure warning doesn't work today when you'd really like it too, like when it's raining very heavily and it's hard to see the stripes on the road.
        • Re:Big Red (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Belial6 (794905) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @10:46PM (#23514112)
          Lane departure is being done all wrong. We need to get the various road authorities to start mixing something like this [hitachi.co.jp] into the paint that they paint the lines with. Then vehicles could use RFID readers to no only know when they are departing a lane, but they could use this instead of GPS to identify where they are.
      • by Gertlex (722812)
        Do we even want to know what happened to your other neighbors?

        I'm not implying anything, oh no, definitely not. :)
    • by neoform (551705)
      Haha, I clicked this story just to post that. You beat me to it ;)
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I don't want anything stopping what happened near chicago the past week, a semi loaded with oreos crashed and sent those lovely cookies all over the road, i have like a basket full of em!
    • by ShakaUVM (157947) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:41AM (#23515466) Homepage Journal
      Slashdot is even further behind the times than that. Well, the submitter, but still.

      Before Qualcomm made it big with CDMA, their first major product was a satellite based truck tracking/logistics systems (called OMNITrack). It came out, oh, in 1985 or thereabouts.

      Amazing that the summary said we're just now seeing high tech stuff appear in the world of trucking... pfft.

      Of course, I only knew about that since I went to college at UC San Diego, and Qualcomm was the local high tech company that hired a huge number of our engineering graduates.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:09PM (#23513584)
    Who read the title and thought "OH NO, A SEQUEL!?"
  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:12PM (#23513608)
    Big rig trucks are very expensive to operate. Time is money. As a result, big rig operators have always been looking for anything that can help them improve efficiency a performance and this makes them into early adopters.

    Communications (CB radios and trunked radio) have always been associated with truckers.

    Big rigs were also the first to use significant engine management. J1939 (one of first uses of CAN) was originally done for big rigs.

    • by cayenne8 (626475)
      "Big rig trucks are very expensive to operate. Time is money. As a result, big rig operators have always been looking for anything that can help them improve efficiency a performance and this makes them into early adopters. Communications (CB radios and trunked radio) have always been associated with truckers."

      A year or two ago..for fun (and for talking to other car club members when on a run), I got a CB radio and put it in the car. It is fun on the odd long trip I take...to talk with the truckers, and

    • Very true (Score:5, Interesting)

      by epseps (39675) on Friday May 23, 2008 @12:03AM (#23514426)
      I used to be a truck driver before I got into Unix Administration (long story but backing up is now a lot safer). When I left the profession in 1999 the truck stops were just putting rj11 jacks for dial up in the trucker section of the restaurants...Not exactly fast but computers had not hit the real of being personal communication yet....which truckers adopt pretty fast. In 1995 I used to feel like a big shot for walking around with a cell phone when I was among non-truckers but truck drivers already had them and owner-operators began to depend upon them immediatly.

      But back then fuel was relatively cheap and the only modifications we had on our engines were a governor that restricted top speed (mine was annoyingly set at 68). Now I hardly recognise the cab of a modern truck ...I had gauges that used dials and not a single LCD was present and I relied soley on mirror placement and use to avoid accidents.

      Oh, and laminated maps. That was the top technology for finding my way around Houston.
  • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:22PM (#23513668) Journal
    Combat rising fuel costs? They aren't serious, yet. Otherwise, we'd be moving everything we could via railroad, not road. We'd see a lot more aerodynamics. It'd be so easy to make a few small aerodynamic changes to the trailers. That's seriously low hanging fruit, and it's been almost entirely ignored. As it is, while many of the tractors aren't too bad, the average truck trailer has all the aerodynamics of a brick. We'd also see lighter trailers with more aluminum and composite carbon fiber in them, more efficient engines, and better tires.
    • rail does not go all over the place and trucks are needed for delivering goods locally.
      • by Cyno01 (573917)
        True, but that doesnt change the fact that most of the goods around the country USED to be carried by rail, untill the automotive companies bought up the rail companies and began to ship everything with the trucks they built.
        • by winwar (114053)
          "True, but that doesnt change the fact that most of the goods around the country USED to be carried by rail, untill the automotive companies bought up the rail companies and began to ship everything with the trucks they built."

          Automotive companies didn't buy up rail carriers.

          We built this great transportation system (highways) that allowed people to live everywhere and get goods from anywhere. Railroads couldn't keep up. Trucks are more useful. It will take far greater prices and much time to change this
          • by belmolis (702863)

            Yes, but the interstate highway system is only cheaper than railroads for most goods because it is so heavily subsidized by the federal and state governments.

          • by Cyno01 (573917)
            No, the highway system was also pushed by the auto makers and as a public works project and as an integral part of national defense. Link [wikipedia.org].
    • by LoRdTAW (99712) on Friday May 23, 2008 @12:27AM (#23514492)
      We'd see a lot more aerodynamics.

      Aero? Peterbilt 378, Kenworth T2000, International Prostar, Freightliner Century/Colombia/Cascadia, Mack Vision. And more are to follow.

      It'd be so easy to make a few small aerodynamic changes to the trailers. That's seriously low hanging fruit, and it's been almost entirely ignored.

      Aero Trailers are not always feasible in the eyes of the trucking industry for one simple reason: weight. Most tractors today have proper wind deflectors on top to allow to the air to deflect around the trailer reducing drag. Side skirts have been tried since the 70's but did not yield enough of an increase in fuel savings to warrant their cost or added weight.

      We'd also see lighter trailers with more aluminum and composite carbon fiber in them

      Trailers are already as light as possible and are full of composite materials and aluminum, you just haven't bothered to look. Aluminum is popular in flatbed trailers that can be upward of 100% aluminum and many trailers are of a mixed construction of both aluminum and steel. Aluminum frames used to be popular in trucks of the 70's. But after a few years of running on roads that are salted in the winter, everyone learned real fast that aluminum was a poor material for frames. Carbon fiber isn't a material your going to find on a truck as it has no desirable properties other then low weight.

      more efficient engines

      Diesel engines have for years been very efficient. The average today is about 6-6.5 MPG for tractor trailers. Older diesels that were mechanical could also yield similar numbers but were very dirty (but fun and simple to maintain and work on). EPA 2007 and the looming EPA 2010 has created a whole new school of diesel design and many companies are about to or are going to release some real seriously high tech engines. Compacted graphite iron, turbo compounding, ingenious heat management, acoustic tuning, over head cams and integrated engine brakes is whats in the mix. International's MaXXForce, Detroit Diesel's DD15, and Paccar's MX engine are some of the most technologically advanced engines out there. They are ready to be deployed soon here in the USA and will meet EPA 2010 emissions which will make gasoline engine look filthy.

      and better tires.

      Ever hear of super singles? They are wide base tires that replace the dual tires found on both drive and trailer axles. They have less friction than a set of dual tires and can bring about a noticeable and beneficial savings in fuel economy. They are also lighter which allows the truck to carry more fright which increases efficiency. Adoption has been pretty good but safety is a bit of a concern as with duals if one tire blows the other can support the weight of the axle so the truck can be safely stopped. Cost is also an issue and they aren't useful outside of LTL, long haul and bulk haul. Vocational work still demands dual tires for the high weights and abuse involved.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kijori (897770)

        Aluminum is popular in flatbed trailers that can be upward of 100% aluminum
        That's a lot of aluminium.

        Now I need to get back to work, I've been spending over 100% of my time on Slashdot.
    • by sr180 (700526)
      A major quality international electronics brand started shipping all their TV's and electronic equipment in Australia by rail for a small cost saving. However, their equipment failure rate jumped by over 300%. Rail is great for bulk materials, but not as good for the sensitive stuff.
  • This isn't new (Score:3, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:37PM (#23513728) Homepage

    Most of this stuff has been on trucks for ten years. Eaton's VORAD anti-collision radar goes back further than that. But now, everybody with more than one rig has some kind of tracking system.

  • Warning: You are about to experience a collision. Now applying automated force feedback controls and intelligent brake assistance on a large vehicle hauling an unpredictable, possibly liquid or poorly secured load to avoid detected hazard.

    Problem?
    • by symbolset (646467)

      Warning: You are about to experience a collision. Now applying automated force feedback controls and intelligent brake assistance on a large vehicle hauling an unpredictable, possibly liquid or poorly secured load to avoid detected hazard.

      Problem?

      "Bridge out" error. (R)etry, (A)bort, (I)gnore?

      Thanks but I'd rather have my shipments delivered by rickshaw.

  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:48PM (#23513790) Homepage Journal
    Maybe some day, hundreds of truckloads of shipments will be piloted by one (maybe two) people. Who knows, maybe there will be just one engine for a hundred containers, and it will be smart enough to generate energy very efficiently, regulate it's own speed, and react to hazards. Maybe they will even make special thoroughfares criss-crossing the nation, on which these super-movers of the future will ride on... The future is bright indeed! I just have one question: what might we call them?
    • A train? Welcome to the 19th century. James Watt will be proud.
    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      Trains are, indeed, great for great big bulk things (notice how you sometimes see freight trains carrying coal and gravel and timber and such), but for actually delivering things the last mile (or the first) it's a lot trickier. Being able to go over surface roads buys you a lot of flexibility, too - routing, pickup dates and times, things like that.

      But it's not as if rail isn't already in the middle of a comeback and spending a billion dollars a year or so on new infrastructure. (Freight, that is, of cou

  • by Brett Buck (811747) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:59PM (#23513860)
    The summary underestimates the technology development in the trucking industry. Since at least the early 70's oil crisis, no effort has been spared to wheedle out ever last cent per lb-mile. The engine controls are exceptionally sophisticated and the scheduling/routing software is similarly complex. This is not a bunch of stereotypical yokels. Most people here would go broke if they tried to do it.

            While we are at it, a lot of people might be surprised how sophisticated trains and train operations are - modern locomotives were the prototypes of Prius' and othe hybrids, complete with regenerative braking.

              Brett
  • GPS (Score:3, Funny)

    by Repton (60818) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @10:14PM (#23513936) Homepage

    Will it stop directing them through tiny villages [slashdot.org] with roads too narrow to cope?

  • by tomRakewell (412572) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @10:26PM (#23514012)
    Truckers may not be able to pronounce "Illinois" real well, but they did adopt CB Radios back in the 1970s. That was the closest thing to the Internet until... the Internet.

    In case your memory is short: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaammaHevT0
  • by jcwren (166164) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @10:28PM (#23514024) Homepage
    Back in '91, IBM won a contract from J.B. Hunt to develop a satellite based system for trucks. It used a Qualcomm satellite system, a 486SX based tablet computer (I designed the keyboard controller, power management processor and did a lot of the BIOS work on it), and a docking station.

    The tablet ran a program designed by a sub-contractor that allowed the trucker to do things like checklists, fuel management, figure his trip earnings, report emergencies, etc.

    One of J.B. Hunts driving (heh) reasons was that after a driver delivered his load, he might spend 30 minutes thumbing the same quarter into a payphone trying to call the dispatcher. With this system, he could send a communique that he was done, and the system would turn around with new orders in less than 2 minutes.

    One of the other neat things was the Qualcomm dish could do triangulation that was accurate to a few hundred yards. At least twice I know of, rigs were stolen and recovered because of the satellite tracking.

    Now the little antenna packages are ubiquitous on trucks. Look behind the air dam on the roof, or the back of the cab, and you'll see a white dome that's about 12" in diameter, and 10" tall. Odds are that's a Qualcomm satellite link.

    The tablet system was pretty neat, too. It was an extremely dense PCB at the time, 16 layers. It supported the original Sundisk (before they became Sandisk) 2.5MB flash drives, touch screen, used Peltier devices to allow operation in extreme temperatures, had RS-232, RS-422, infrared, keyboard & mouse port, expansion connectors, LCD controller, all that stuff, in an aluminum frame with this heavy duty rubber covering over it.

    The holster interfaced to the trucks wiring harness and could pick off speed (we were pre-GPS), RPM, voltage, stuff like that. Our group didn't handle the holster, so I only know vague details about it, but I do know that while they were considered some of the vehicle data busses for the future, they interfaced the old-fashioned way.

    Most of the drivers were moderately receptive to the system, since it sped up their turn-around time, which meant more money. However, since it could tattle on exceeding maximum allowed drive time, over-revving, and of course speeding, there were some drivers that had real problems with it.

    Incidentally, at that point in time, J.B. Hunt was a VERY large customer of IBM main frames. For the previous 7 years, they upgraded every year to IBMs newest mainframe offerings. Their big data center was somewhere in the Mid-west, I believe. With their route planning, logistics management, service records system, dispatch system and everything else, they burned a lot of CPU cycles.

    Somewhere in my basement, I have one of the docking holsters and the tablet computer, and as of about a year ago, it powered up and booted into DOS.

    J.B. Hunt and IBM learned an important lesson from this, too: Don't let the driver be able to see the tablet. Before they started positioning them where the driver couldn't read it while in motion, at least one accident occurred because of fixation.

    While new technologies have brought more to the table, what the system offered 17 years ago isn't all that drastically different. Satellite is still the best choice, since cell phone coverage is not 100% pervasive.

    The project name was Road Rider. Naturally, we called it Road Kill internally :)
    • by jrumney (197329)

      J.B. Hunt and IBM learned an important lesson from this, too: Don't let the driver be able to see the tablet. Before they started positioning them where the driver couldn't read it while in motion, at least one accident occurred because of fixation.

      This is the same reason Volkswagens and Audis have the OBD-II connector positioned so it is accessible from the back seat, and not under the dash, where most cars position it. US regulations don't help though, as they require it to be within three feet of the d

  • by tomRakewell (412572) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @10:32PM (#23514054)
    I've been getting full semis delivered to me from Ohio to Minnesota for exactly $1050. This price has not changed in the past 4 years.

    Just the other day, I had a competing trucking company come in and quote out the job. Their quote was... $1050.

    The price of diesel fuel has quadrupled in this time.

    I can not believe that technology is making the difference here. I think truckers are getting screwed.

    I know there were some threats of a trucking strike a month or two ago that came to nothing. I would not be surprised to see this happen, and if it did, the country would be brought to its knees.
    • by timmarhy (659436)
      fuel isn't the big cost in freight though, even though the transport industry makes a big deal out of it.

      registrations and regulation costs + wages is the big ticket items. all things considered fuel is still very cheap when you look at just how much work it does.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by spauldo (118058)
        Fuel is the largest expense in trucking. Wages is #2, and tires are #3. After that, I don't know for sure, but my guess would be maintenance and truck purchases.

        Wages used to be the #1 expense. Diesel also used to be $1.30 a gallon three or four years ago.

        The grandparent poster is right - it's all a bidding game, and if you try to raise your rates, someone else will do it cheaper. Rates will increase, but probably not until a lot of the little guys are out of business. I know my company is struggling.
    • by Zerth (26112)
      I can not believe that technology is making the difference here. I think truckers are getting screwed.


      Or you were getting screwed 4 years ago.
    • I can not believe that technology is making the difference here. I think truckers are getting screwed.
      It's the same in Australia, initially a lot of companies had contracts with oil companies etc but those are being renegotiated and the smaller companies are really struggling to make ends meet. Nearly all profit has been cut out.
  • But does it have a helicopter cab [area51andahalf.com] which can detach and fly away? [wikipedia.org]
  • The technologies listed here are pretty old now.

    You now have systems where you have one truck with a driver is followed by several driverless trucks. You also can have automatic parking / reversing.

    I can't find any links at the moment but I've seen them demo'd at tradeshows.
    • by spauldo (118058)

      You now have systems where you have one truck with a driver is followed by several driverless trucks. You also can have automatic parking / reversing.

      Driverless trucks? That won't make production, at least on the American interstate system. It would work fine if it wasn't for all the cars on the road. My bet is that an automated driving system wouldn't make a thousand mile trip before it ran someone off the road.

      Automatic backing sounds interesting though. There's a lot of places that are difficult at best to back up to (grocery and department stores are in general really bad about that - blind side backing with no space) and it'd be interesting to

      • Driverless trucks? That won't make production, at least on the American interstate system.
        I know it's being trialled in mines around the place. Would take a *lot* of work before you allow that on highways, but it's not impossible.
  • A small while ago I had an occasion where a friend was giving me a lift *don't worry he got the OK from his company first* as I thought it would be a fun experience to go on a run. I was expecting some run down, greasy, loud U-haul type experience. I was blown away by his Modern Machine. It was Swankier the my damn apartment.

    He had a Built in computer with LCD in the sleeper.
    High Speed Internet
    A HIdeaway full shower.
    A mini drink fridge.
    A GPS System
    Hands Free Cell hooked up to his stereo
    2 Reverse Ca
  • by Whuffo (1043790) on Friday May 23, 2008 @02:05AM (#23514780) Homepage Journal
    As more and more high-tech monitoring equipment gets loaded into "big rigs" the drivers get more and more unhappy. All arguments about efficiency and protecting against hijacking aside, how would you like it if your employer was monitoring every movement, every moment, your position at any time - all day, every day. Even things like missing a gear change; imagine getting a message later asking you why you let your RPM exceed corporate limits.

    I worked for a large (LARGE) national trucking corporation for seven years in their IT department. Occasionally, I'd go to the terminals to talk with dispatchers / drivers to see how IT could make their jobs easier or faster. What I heard a lot about was how much they hated the invisible boss watching over their shoulder, monitoring every little detail of their workday and questioning them about anything that wasn't according to the way the corporation wanted it to be. "Why did you stop at the rest area off of 101 for 15 minutes at 12:33 PM on August 3?" "I needed to take a leak" "It shouldn't have taken you 15 minutes to take a leak" - and you can imagine where it goes from there.

    Does all this monitoring and control increase efficiency and reduce costs? That's open to debate; while it may cut out some unscheduled downtime, it also cuts out some unscheduled overtime and / or supra-legal speeds. Net effect at the bottom line? Who knows, but it's mighty close to a wash. Where the real difference is - the drivers attitude about their job. They used to be "captain of their ship", piloting their load of valuable cargo to its destination - using the routes and methods that their years of experience had shown to be best. Now they're just cogs in the machine; follow the route you're given, operate the tractor according to corporate policy - and we're going to monitor you carefully to make sure you do - and punish you for every transgression. How can you take pride in your job under those conditions? Very dehumanizing and it just gets worse year after year. Each year the corporate overlords refine their expectations of what it takes to operate a truck at maximum efficiency.

    Ultimately, what the corporation is thinking about is how much they pay those drivers - and how they could reduce that expense. Refining the task of "drive a truck" to the point where it's just a matter of following instructions is the first step. Once they've achieved that, there'll be no more need for those highly experienced drivers - someone with a new commercial license could do the same job at about one third the salary. This would cut those labor expenses and allow the corporation to post increased profits.

    But how would you feel about no longer being able to assume that those big trucks are being driven by professional drivers. How would you feel to know that 80,000 pounds of freight in the lane next to you is being driven by a dropout that's talking on his cell phone?

    This isn't idle speculation - this is the way things have been going for quite a few years now. All that's changed is the price of fuel; as that climbs, the transportation companies are faced with a hard choice - cut expenses to compensate or raise their rates. Raising the rates enough to cover the new improved cost of fuel would chase away a substantial number of customers so the pressure is on to cut labor expenses. After numerous reorganizations and cuts it's now the drivers turn on the hot seat. Next time you see one on the road, give him a smile and a wave. Those guys work long hours for not a lot of money and do all they can to keep everyone around them on the roads safe. Everything you buy - EVERYTHING - got to you in the back of a big rig. Think about the people who have dedicated their lives to making sure your store has an adequate supply of canned beer and what's being done to them in the name of "increased efficiency" and tip your hat; these guys deserve your gratitude.

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