It’s not if autonomous trucks are coming, but when.

According to Bloomberg, J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., Uber Technologies Inc.’s freight division, and FedEx Corp. are all testing automated big rigs. Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo, recently expanded testing of autonomous delivery vans in Phoenix with United Parcel Service Inc. to include big rigs. TuSimple Holdings Inc. completed the first fully autonomous semi-truck driven on public roads, traveling without a human driver from Tucson to Phoenix.

Operators and autonomous truck developers are working together to achieve SAE Level 4 automated driving, defined by a vehicle capable of driving autonomously without human input or backup, under specific conditions. The goal is to lessen the impact of the ongoing labor shortage and augment the supply chain industry’s workforce of 8 million, 3.5 million of which are truck drivers. In preparation for fully autonomous trucks, many firms are already pushing ahead with autonomous shuttles between plants and distribution centers.

Autonomous truck with digital gridlines approaching distribution center.

While fully autonomous trucks are still years away, the timing and their arrival to the industry couldn’t be more critical. The American Trucking Association (ATA) has projected the industry’s driver shortage could reach 160,000 by 2028 with the need to hire 110,000 new truck drivers per year, a total of 1.1 million over the next decade. Those stats paired with the ATA’s estimate of truck tonnage growing from 10.23 billion tons in 2021 to 13.7 billion tons in 2023 with overall freight set to increase by 28% over the next decade show an industry with a dire need for safe and proven driverless technology.

So how do driverless trucks interact with guards at the gate, shipping clerks, and the need for wet signatures on printed bills of lading? The digital yard of the future must allow driverless trucks to interact with guards at the gate, shipping clerks, as well as support paperless BOLs. In the process, a digital yard will help mitigate impacts of the pandemic, labor shortages, rising fuel costs, the overall increase of shipping and transportation costs, and herald the arrival of autonomous trucks with seamless integration. 

M.Folio Contactless Shipping is the first step on the path to a digital yard and preparedness for the coming sea change of autonomous trucks. It is a solution that meets many current and future supply chain challenges head-on with workflow optimizations built for both human-driven and autonomous vehicles. The features and functionality include:

  • Location beacons and geofencing alert a facility that a truck is approaching with a narrow-window ETA notifying the gate, assigning a dock door, and alerting labor to ensure load is properly positioned and ready. 
  • A guardless gate with remote monitoring and automated ingress/egress to speed check-in & check-out procedures. 
  • Removal of driver and facility staff interaction throughout an automated, digital workflow.
  • The automation of decades-old paper processes with eBOL and ePOD, including digital signature capture and cloud document storage with permission-based access of documents and data for partners, carriers, and suppliers.
  • Digital document management at the multi-enterprise level, offering all parties real-time access to shipping documents, including bills of lading and proof of delivery, as well as the accompanying data.
  • Flexible connection points for data sharing and visibility between M.Folio and adjacent systems like WMS, TMS, YMS, and RTTV platforms. 
  • A dramatic reduction in customer service inquiries, claims, and claims processing time. 

By creating an automated workflow that is frictionless for both drivers and autonomous vehicles, any facility can realize dramatic increases in trailer throughput, a reduction in labor costs at all steps in the workflow, the elimination of costs associated with processing, printing, and storing paper documents, enhanced visibility of the entire operation for process optimization, and improved facility safety, both from illness and injury. 

The future is coming quickly. Now is the time to prepare your facility while reducing costs and protecting your workforce. 



Business Insider: ATA Freight Forecast Shows Freight Recovering from Pandemic-Induced Dip Can a Self-Driving 40-Ton Truck Be Safe? Developers Say Yes When Will Trucks Drive Themselves? How many truck drivers are in the USA? And why we need more