Artificial Intelligence is becoming a more dominant force in our society day-by-day, and while some groups support this, many are wary of the potential negative consequences that may be attached to the more prominent role of AI. One key concern is the possibility of the automated capital replacing labour and removing the need for people in certain jobs. An example of this concern is transport and delivery, as strides are being made to automate short and long-distance delivery services.
There were approximately 275,000 HGV drivers in 2021 according to the UK census, this number expected to have decreased as BREXIT measures further took hold, despite the lesser numbers this is still a large sector of the labour economy and to see this many jobs under threat is not a good sight.
However, there is another way to look at this, as many of us know our haulage sector is extremely constrained on the supply side as BREXIT restrictions placed made it difficult for foreign workers to gain permits to travel in our country. Therefore, the addition of automation could be seen to fill this supply side gap rather than displace our current labour.
The Autonomous lorries are look very appetising for businesses as they pick up on the fallbacks of human labour, a key one being sleep. Experiments have taken place worldwide and one for example was done by plus.ai in the US; it took their autonomous lorry (supervised by a driver and engineer) 3 days to travel from California to Pennsylvania, essentially the full width of the country. Whereas it is estimated it would take a person 5-6 days to complete this journey. This huge cut of almost 50% can be seen as very advantageous for companies, as well as the ability to drive in a way that is almost perfectly fuel efficient, it not only saves time but money as well.
The market for the semi and fully autonomous truck market is expected to reach approximately £64bn by 2027, however it will be a slow and gradual process to roll out these self-driven lorries, it is doubtful we’ll see an impact soon. There is also a limiting factor in the UK for these trucks as there is less opportunity for such long-haul journeys, as well as tight and winding country roads which need a human input to navigate.
There are also strides to automate shorter range delivery vehicles and there is evidence of use of these in the UK, generally in food delivery and courier services there are small examples of small robots used for delivery services. From 2018 there have been automated delivery robots rolled out in cities across the UK (from the company Starship) and you may have seen them yourselves, they are also in use across Europe and the US having Domino’s pizza as a client in Germany and the Netherlands. They are simply loaded with cargo up to 10kg, given a destination and customers use an app to open them once they have arrived.
There are fallbacks to these robots when compared to human delivery mainly being the speed and quantity they can deliver at. Generally, they hold one package at a time and move at a maximum speed of 4mph so you can see the negatives, however for single deliveries they do offer a much cheaper alternative to a human courier.
Currently, we are still far away from complete automation, so our jobs are safe, for now. However, there is clear evidence of automation becoming more prevalent across all sectors as AI develops exponentially and is at the for front of many industries’ research and development. Therefore, it would be a bad idea to disregard automation as it is clear there are forward movements in transport sectors and as time goes on it will become a larger part of our lives.