Are There Greater Implications for a World With Autonomous Trucking?

We often forget how interconnected today’s businesses are, and how innovation in one sector often bleeds into others. Electric cars and trucks seem so distant from an industry like beer, but logistics and supply chains connect them both. This is very apparent in AB InBev’s recent pre-order of 40 Tesla semi trucks. That’s right: Tesla is officially in the beer delivery business.

99 Bottles of Beer on the (electric) Truck

Recently, the beer giant AB InBev (better known as Anheuser-Busch, makers of Budweiser) put in a pre-order for 40 of Tesla’s electric semi trucks. While this pales in comparison to the size of its entire logistics fleet, it is a huge pre-order in both size and future implications.

Soon, beer will be moved across the country with the latest technology possible, with automatic pilot assistance and other features previously unknown to truck drivers. AB InBev has stated that these trucks will support its goal of reducing its carbon footprint, since the trucks are electric.

However, others may see this more sinisterly, noting that these trucks are the first step in reducing the number of people required to be had on payroll; eventually, all driving will be done autonomously for cost and safety reasons. Trucks will not have to “sleep” during mandated hours and can drive continuously without making the same errors that humans do. Autonomous trucks don’t need food or bathroom breaks, they are not prone to road rage, and they will be able to follow traffic laws meticulously. They just make more sense from a business standpoint, and other companies realize this as well.

Walmart has also purchased some of Tesla’s trucks to add to its fleet, as have numerous other companies. In our lifetime, it is very possible that we will see the end of a profession that affects 1 out of every 15 workers in the United States in one way or another, and 3.5 million people directly. When this profession vanishes due to cheaper, more efficient machines, there will be an unemployment crisis on our hands if we do not prepare for it.

The current welfare system is beleaguered as it is, and it cannot afford to take on another 3.5 million people. Many of those employed by the trucking industry have specific training that is difficult to translate to other sectors, and expecting a company to add new training to help those affected employees later may leave us disappointed.

While it seems like there’s a bit more time before we have to worry, it is definitely something to keep in mind. Again, logistics and trucking intersect with practically every other business and industry and comprise a significant portion of the working population. A problem for truckers is a problem for us all.