A former truck driver has taken on the trucking job of the future – supervising autonomous trucks are they make their way through the city.
Maureen “Mo” Fitzgerald says that she was reading the paper one day when she noticed a job ad for ‘autonomous truck driver’ and figured that she’d give it a shot.
“I saw the ad in the paper that said autonomous truck driver and I thought that’s interesting so I applied and here I am now,” she said.
Fitzgerald is more of a chaperone than a driver, though. She comically praises the truck when it does well, but doesn’t do much apart from that. It’s hands off the wheel and feet off the pedals as the truck travels the freeways of Tucson, Arizona.
“I think the drivers in the trucks are learning together. We’re teaching the trucks and the companies are putting that information into the trucks and we’re all hoping they will be the safest trucks on the road,” she said.
The real driver? A big box loaded into the backseat, filled with artificial intelligence capable of making 400 trillion operations per second. It’s army of cameras scan a full 360’ around the truck and can, in theory, react 10 times faster than a human driver. The artificial intelligence controlling the truck has been instructed to watch everything from snowy roads to bad drivers to pot holes. The rig even comes complete with a plan for unexpected breakdowns.
“If the vehicle has a breakdown, it blows a tire or has an oil leak, or an air leak, the vehicle will detect that and pull itself off the road. And our oversight system will know what happened and will send rescue for that vehicle,” explained Chuck Price, chief product officer for TuSimple, the company responsible for this high-tech trucking.
“The race right now is to get a vehicle system built, but also to make a viable commercial solution that fleets can actually use,” said Price. “It never sleeps, it never texts, it’s never distracted so it’s a safer vehicle on the highway,” he continued.
Fitzgerald agrees. She says this sort of technology could help to keep truckers close to their families.
“They want to be home with their families, they want to stay local. So if we can take that long, monotonous driving out and let this truck do it and do it safely, then there’s a future in this,” she said.
The company expects the trucks to be ready for completely autonomous trips by the end of 2024.