Moving businesses forward with artificial intelligence at the wheel: Driverless trucks likely to hit the roads before autonomous cars
A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to an audience of MBA students at my alma mater, INSEAD. All of them were way too young to remember the popular ‘80s TV series, “Knight Rider.” But while they had no idea who the “Hoff’ was, they were intrigued by the prescience of his character’s talking, self-aware car named KITT that seemed at the time to be beyond futuristic. Today, every major automobile manufacturer is incorporating intelligence into its cars — giving vehicles the ability to share information and communicate with us. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed on Dec. 13, 2016 a rule that, if enacted, would require manufacturers to equip all new cars and light trucks with wireless, vehicle-to-vehicle communications that would transmit vehicle locations, speed, direction and other information 10 times per second. And certainly, Tesla has made a name for itself as much for its software as for its hardware. We can create almost anything we can imagine.
And when it comes to vehicles driving themselves, it turns out that the big push is with truck manufacturers. Trucks controlled by artificial intelligence (AI) are positioned to disrupt the entire transportation industry.
Trucks are the lifeblood of goods distribution and entire supply chains. Beyond autonomous trucks, driverless trucks have actually been around for more than a year  in an experimental deployment mode. Mercedes-Benz has taken a lead role, but other manufacturers are gaining speed and creating trucks that can transport goods from point-to-point without driver intervention.
The current plan is for human drivers to do the intricate work of pulling in and out of loading docks. On routes between deliveries, however, AI will take over and trucks will drive themselves . Eventually, as regulations permit, companies may remove drivers from the system entirely.
Driverless cars are already proving to be safer than those driven by humans , and trucks are far more dangerous in crashes than are cars. Suffice it to say, we should expect a rapid move toward automating trucks entirely.
It’s important to consider the business and societal implications of this disruptive innovation. In a driverless future, trucks will be able to travel 24/7, stopping only as required by law, for gas and for the needs of a human occupant. Thus, companies will need fewer trucks to transport the same quantity of goods. AI trucks should make our roads far safer, and will have the added benefit of behaving predictably, greatly improving safety for the human drivers on the same roads. Further, cities packed with autonomous vehicles will dispense with parking lots.
And what happens when there are fewer crashes? Insurance premiums will go down, as revised actuarial tables will take into account improved safety records. This will save transportation companies millions. Further, if cars experience fewer accidents involving trucks, premiums for personal vehicle insurance could also fall. Insurers will need new things to insure.
Eventually, complete replacement of human drivers will increase savings by an order of magnitude. To be sure, the innovative (and disruptive) use of AI technology has a “multiplier” effect.
Safety, fewer trucks on the road and cost savings: huge benefits of a driverless future. Nearly all businesses depend on shipping goods — or at least on utilizing goods that are shipped — so we should expect to see businesses of all types getting on board as early adopters of the KITTs of tomorrow.
This is but one example of how businesses that “rotate to the new” and scale innovation can have a material impact on society. They evolve to being much more than simply shareholder-value-generating machines. Organizations that embrace disruptive technologies are impacting jobs, human behavior, economics, policy-making and society.