I was going through my stack of newsletters over the long Juneteenth holiday and found this interesting piece from Forbes. Seems like Embark, self-described as “the longest running self-driving truck program,” has started training Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) officials on how to correctly engage their trucks and pull them over.
When you see those flashing lights on top of the police car and it is right behind you, it means they want to have a word with you. But to a self-driving truck, more needs to be “machine learned” to get the attention of the system. It might not understand the difference between a blue light bar, the big red light made famous in Michigan, or a combination of the two.
Sometimes, the safety operator at the hub might not be watching that particular vehicle. They’re in a bunker somewhere where the safety operators monitor a few different trucks at the same time. Think of it like a customer service call center, but without the shouting.
Embark plans to install lockboxes on its trucks, similar to the “time capsules” on the nose of trailers, with the trucks’ insurance and registration cards. Police would have a key or some other form of access. The lockboxes would also include the direct contact information for the personnel assigned to that truck.
Won’t thieves just clone cars and pull them over?
The worrisome question on my mind is that thieves will learn what is needed to pull the trucks over and sell the load. Old police cars are sold at auctions and then refitted with lights and sirens. Then thieves use these “official” vehicles to pull over and commit crimes. Here’s a story from Alberta, Canada of a similar tactic used.
In my personal opinion, fully driverless trucks are a bad idea. Someone needs to be in direct control of the truck at all times. Sudden changes around a truck need instant decisions. Also, how good is artificial intelligence at interpreting events that take place around a truck? Can it know how to pre-judge the environment around the truck in order to increase or decrease speed or change lanes?
Many drivers see A.I. as a way for trucking companies to get away from that major expense category called payroll. Why pay a driver for every truck when you can simply subscribe to a service that is a fraction of the cost? Like I said before, most A.I. operators are operated like a call center, with a single “safety operator” handling multiple trucks. A cut in operating costs is a big boon to profit margins.