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Week of 3 February 2020: What's developed in transportation in the last year?

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We last visited transportation in February of 2019. What's new?

It looks like autonomous trucks are just as far away now as they were this time last year. They always seem to be just around the corner, but not quite here. That last little control element to keep them from running off the road seems to be very elusive.

I notice that my own 2019 model automobile incorrectly thinks I should be braking when I go around a corner on a two-lane road and there is a car coming the other way. It erroneously thinks that car is in my lane.

We will likely see electric trucks before we see autonomous trucks. The electrification of all transportation seems to be moving forward at an ever-increasing pace.

A place where there is an opportunity for improvement that is technologically within reach is loading and unloading trucks and rail cars. The last great improvement in this technology was the specially designed roll clamp. Yes, fork trucks and bale trucks are now equipped with collision avoidance systems, but how soon are we going to get driverless clamp trucks that can successfully load and unload an over-the-road truck without causing accidents or damage? This seems to be a pretty tight working envelope that could be equipped with sensors that keep these clamp trucks within their working space. The jobs are repetitive, boring and fraught with accident opportunities. Looks like a place for significant improvement.

The advancement in recycled mills for the containerboard industry have yielded their own improvements in transportation costs in a stealthy fashion. With new mills located near the customers and drawing their feedstock from the surrounding area, these mills have much lower inbound and outbound transportation costs than the old virgin mills located out in the forests. One might not think they have lower inbound costs, but the reality is that material had to move somewhere from its location (behind the grocery store, for instance) anyway. It is up to the collectors to convince the stores that whether going to a landfill or to a MRF (Municipal Recycling Facility) there is a cost of movement that the store bears a responsibility for carrying in one way or another.

In summary, the technological improvements at the moment seem to be advancing slowly, at least more slowly than the developers have been promising us. I suspect it is like many other things--one of these days we will wake up and realize that for a given period of time in the past, say five years, the improvements have been astonishing. It just does not seem to be so at the moment.

For safety this week, I think every over-the-road truck should be equipped with side and rear cameras. This technology is proven and inexpensive. There is no excuse for it not being widespread right now.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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