Uber Freight touts hub-to-hub transportation model, self-driving trucks
For the foreseeable future, self-driving trucks are expected to operate in a hub-to-hub model, allowing human drivers to complete the first and last miles of delivery, according to a recent white paper.
The Uber Freight The white paper shows that this model allows a driver to transport a loaded trailer from the shipper facility to a transfer center near the highway. This is called the first mile. Then, a self-driving truck transports the trailer to the receiver’s facility. This is the middle mile. In this facility, a second driver will deliver the freight to its destination. It’s the last or last mile.
“This model is a stepping stone to full autonomy,” the white paper says. “This allows developers (of self-driving trucks) to start generating revenue in their first years of operation. This will provide them with a revenue stream that can support the development of self-driving technology instead of relying exclusively on external investment, to expand their capabilities beyond highway driving.
A 2022 survey of the largest Uber Freight and Transplace shippers shows that 52% are extremely likely to consider self-driving freight in the future. A quarter of senders are somewhat likely to do so.
According to the white paper, self-driving developers are focusing on Level 4 self-driving technology, where a vehicle can drive under most conditions along certain corridors. The six levels of autonomous driving technology include levels 0, 1 and 2, in which a driver must always be engaged in driving. Levels 3 and 4 allow the vehicle to drive under certain conditions. At level 5, the vehicle drives in all conditions without any assistance.
The white paper shows that the complexities of autonomous driving on city streets have led developers to focus on highway driving, which is more manageable and more defined. Under the hub-to-hub model, human drivers cover the first and last miles of the expedition, while self-driving trucks cover the intermediate or highway miles.
In 2021, Lowell-based carrier JB Hunt Transport Services Inc. and Waymo Via collaborated on a pilot project to commercially transport goods using self-driving technology. JB Hunt hauled over 860,000 pounds of cargo in the pilot. In January, JB Hunt and Waymo Via announced a long-term strategic alliance with the goal of achieving fully autonomous transportation in Texas within the next few years. In June, the carrier added home goods company Wayfair to its self-driving trucking program, shipping along Interstate 45 between Houston and Dallas.
According to the white paper, the corridor between the two cities is expected to handle between 0.36 billion and 0.66 billion miles of dry van freight in 2022. Like JB Hunt, Uber Freight also has a long-term strategic partnership with Waymo. And Uber Freight is running a multi-phase pilot program with Aurora in which Uber Freight learns how to integrate Aurora Driver into its digital freight network.
The white paper shows that the hub-to-hub model can also benefit truckers who have become more inclined to handle regional or local freight as opposed to long-haul. This can be attributed to several factors, such as young drivers preferring to say closer to home. The hub-to-hub model allows for shorter trips, so drivers can get home every night.
According to the white paper, self-driving trucks are expected to reduce freight costs in the long run. Carriers spend approximately 44% of their total operating costs on driver salaries and benefits. Studies have shown estimated savings to be between 30% and 45% of total operating costs. However, to achieve these savings, autonomous vehicles would need to cover the first and last miles of expeditions.
Despite this, trucking operating costs continue to rise. Between 2020 and 2021, the total marginal cost of trucking rose 12.7% to $1.85 per mile, the highest on record, according to the American Institute for Transportation Research (ATRI). Between 2020 and 2021, fuel costs increased by 35.4%, repair and maintenance costs increased by 18.2% and driver wages increased by 10.8%.
A recent ATRI report shows that carriers are focused on improving efficiency in the face of challenges throughout the supply chain. Between 2020 and 2021, empty or empty miles have fallen to 14.8%, while average truck fuel consumption has increased to 6.65 miles per gallon.
According to Uber Freight’s white paper, self-driving trucks will reduce some of truck operating costs, including fuel and insurance, through optimized driving habits and fewer accidents. The white paper showed that the cost of operating an autonomous truck was $1.06 per mile, nearly 80 cents cheaper than a human-driven truck.
However, a rapid transition to autonomous vehicles is unlikely as their high cost and technological challenges must be overcome over time, according to the white paper. By 2050, the number of kilometers traveled by full trucks is expected to increase by 69%, while employment in the long-haul sector will increase by 30%. “We estimate that at least 69,000 additional drivers will be needed to cover 7 billion dry van kilometers by 2035, and 180,000 drivers will be needed by 2050 to cover 18 billion kilometres,” the white paper states.
Meanwhile, driver demand is expected to soar as hundreds of thousands of drivers retire over the next decade. As a result, self-driving trucks should not replace trucking jobs, but fill employment gaps to keep supply chains moving, according to the white paper.