A literature review indicates that Alexander Winton of Cleveland, Ohio invented the semi-truck in 1898 and sold his first manufactured semi-truck in 1899. Winton went into “horseless carriages” in 1896, so today, he would be known as a carmaker.
Cleveland’s Winton Motor Carriage Company sold its first twenty-two manufactured cars in 1898, which created the need to deliver the vehicles to their buyers. As the buyers lived all over the country, the vehicles had to be delivered to places hundreds of miles away from Cleveland.
This presented a major problem. If the cars were driven to their customers, miles, wear, and tear would be placed on the vehicle, and also, the actual delivery would be expensive.
This led him to invent the concept of the semi-truck to handle the delivery of his manufactured vehicles.
He addressed this issue with a new concept that he called an ‘automobile hauler’ by carrying the new vehicle on a trailer. In 1899, Winton Motor Carriage started manufacturing the hauler for its own use and other car manufacturers.
Over the years, the semi-truck concept has evolved to a level where trucks of today are a work of art. However, it is also a fact that tractor-trailers have been in use in one form or fashion for more than 100 years. Isn’t it time to re-think the concept of the tractor-trailer altogether?
One Simple Question
If so much effort and capital are being directed at making trucks driverless, I have to ask this question: If you don’t need the driver, why do you need the truck?
Therein lies the crux of my argument. I don’t believe driverless trucks are the answer to making transportation more efficient or reducing the costs of transportation.
Frankly, some driverless truck proponents remind me too much of the individuals who tried to convince investors and average citizens that a new technology introduced in 2001 would “change not only transportation forever, but also create a better society for all.” The technology in question was the Segway that failed to achieve anywhere near the predicted popularity or use.
My argument is this – if the purpose of the truck is to do nothing more than pull a trailer, wouldn’t it be better to motorize the trailer using a chassis so that a truck isn’t required?
By “motorized chassis,” I am speaking of a driverless chassis capable of hauling trailers that today are pulled by trucks. I want the chassis to haul the same weight that a truck can pull to ensure there is no loss in efficiency. A transportation model that requires the use of a truck to pull a trailer is less innovative, less efficient, and more costly than creating a motorized chassis capable of hauling a trailer without the use of a truck.
If I am wrong, please let me know, but I have spoken to several experts who work for leading truck manufacturers, and in their opinion, a motorized chassis will always cost less than a driverless truck.
I will also argue that motorized trailers could provide increased capabilities, including the following:
- By installing cameras on a motorized chassis, once a trailer arrives at it’s destination, it could conceivably back itself into a dock door or a person could be tasked with opening a panel on the chassis, removing a joystick, and backing the trailer into the dock door. Based on all available research, I have yet to see where a driverless truck has the ability to back a trailer into a dock door as efficiently as a motorized trailer chassis.
- A constraint with trailers is that in order to unload the trailers, either humans or forklifts have to physically go into the trailer to unload the products. A time consuming and labor intensive requirement. I believe a motorized chassis could be created whereby the trailer floor is on a roller system. When a trailer is backed into a dock door, the roller mechanism could be engaged and the trailer would unload itself. It goes without saying that warehouses and other facilities would have to make adjustments in order to take advantage of such capability.
- To make the chassis more maneuverable, I would create a system of tires and rollers that would allow the chassis to drive down interstates and roads with ease. I would also create an ability for the chassis to move side-to-side, backwards and forwards, and spin 360 degrees.
- When a trailer becomes damaged or wears out after several years of use, a new trailer can easily be placed onto the motorized chassis. I also want trailers to be designed so that they can easily be removed from a chassis and stacked in a trailer yard similar to the method for stacking cargo containers.
I believe some readers will be concerned about the requirements to power a chassis. I believe a diesel or electric motor could power a chassis. In addition, some readers may be worried about the stability of a trailer being moved on a chassis. I believe widening the chassis would provide the required strength.
I don’t presume to have all the answers, and I hope those of you who read this do so with the understanding that I am not criticizing proponents of driverless trucks. I am challenging them to consider an alternative I believe to be more innovative. By all means, please feel free to share your ideas and opinions on this topic.
The comments above are my own and nothing has been sponsored by Amazon or Deloitte. This article is about technology and not an article about technology taking away jobs. Throughout history, technology has disrupted many industries. Trucking will be no different.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Brittain Ladd´s LinkedIn page.