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Autonomous Trucking Could Feature Uber-Like Efficiency Sooner Than You Think

Maybe one day your pallets and boxes of new-in products will price, dispatch and deliver themselves to the next distribution hub or store while you attend to more value-added tasks.

The Uber-like efficiency of such a seemingly sci-fi-esque reality might not be so far out in the future if you look at what’s happening today in the rapidly developing  driverless trucking field.

Starsky Robotics, which earlier this summer landed the industry’s first fully unmanned driverless trucking test on a closed seven-mile stretch of Florida highway, announced Thursday that, together with digital freight broker Loadsmart, it had dispatched a driverless truck to haul cargo—with no human intervention involved in the process.

Powered by artificial intelligence-based pricing and load matching technology, Loadsmart handled pricing, tendering and booking the freight job, which a Starsky autonomous truck picked up and hauled to its destination.

Key to this milestone is Starsky’s newly launched Hutch API, which made the seamless Loadsmart integration possible.

“Autonomous vehicles play an integral role in our vision of delivering end-to-end automated shipping and logistics services,” Loadsmart CEO Ricardo Salgado noted. Working with Starsky, he said, will help Loadsmart leap to the “forefront of providing our clients with access to cutting-edge technology so they can advance their supply chain.”

Hailing the fully digital end-to-end process achieved with Loadmart, Starsky CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher said, “the advances that seem obvious for the ride-sharing services are coming to trucking” for the first time ever.

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“It’s not uncommon for a traditional trucking company to have five full-time employees involved in dispatching each truck for each load,” Seltz-Axmacher explained. “By integrating e-brokers like Loadsmart, we are eliminating all back office human intervention and making the shipment process seamless, while focusing on ensuring the safety of driverless trucks. With Starsky’s Hutch API…we will be able to autonomously dispatch autonomous loads on a regular basis.”

And in Texas, driverless trucking is zooming forward. Just 16 months after Kodiak Robotics was formed, the rubber is finally meeting the road for the startup that raised a $10 million Series A one year ago.

A maker of driverless trucking technology specifically geared toward the long-haul industry, Kodiak said Wednesday that its fleet of autonomous trucks has commenced commercial deliveries—with a human installed behind the wheel as a safety precaution. The company, which calls itself a “true freight carrier,” also revealed plans for a new facility located in the Dallas-Forth Worth area that will support ongoing technology tests as well as freight operations.

Proponents of autonomous trucking believe driverless operations will make the industry safer for both employees and the general public with whom they share the road. And they’re quick to point out the cost benefits associated with self-driving semis, too.

For its part, Kodiak claims its technology will reduce “the cost of carrying freight and, for longer routes, the time it takes to move goods”—all upsides for brands and retailers that want to get their goods in front of customers faster.

Dr. Christopher Poe, Texas A&M Transportation Institute assistant agency director and connected automated transportation strategy lead, said, “Texas is a leader in the testing and implementation of connected and automated vehicles, and Kodiak’s willingness to partner with academia and public agencies to ensure safe deployment of new technology will add significant value to our transportation system.”

Globally, the autonomous trucking industry is projected to reach $1.004 billion next year and grow at a CAGR of 10.4 percent over a five-year period to an expected $1.669 billion by 2025, per data supplied by Allied Market Research, which sees North America driving the highest market share.