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Designing Software for Employees of the Autonomous Trucking Industry

By Bennett King // Managing Partner

When designing our recent autonomous vehicle concept, TerraVenture, we came to the conclusion that the rise of autonomous vehicles will dramatically change the human experience with the century-old transportation industry. TerraVenture embodied a change in the recreation vehicle space, transforming and improving family experiences, and even the RV ownership experience, through an all-inclusive recreational vehicle service. But RVs are just the tip of the iceberg; Trucking is a much bigger target.

According to the American Trucking Association, over 31 million commercial trucks transport roughly 10.5 billion tons of freight in the US each year, amounting to a $726 billion industry. The fleet vehicles of this industry will also likely be the beachhead for autonomous technology. Incremental autonomous telematics services, like Peloton, are fielding today and companies like Volvo, Google, Daimler, Uber, Waymo, and California’s Starsky (sans Hutch) Robotics have already started testing self-driving big rigs on the road. The industry is on the cusp of change.

While most of the companies in this space are focusing on the complex technologies needed for autonomous big-rigs, we focus on the human experience; how and in what way will people interact with these autonomous vehicles. Since the bread and butter of K+K is designing human-centered transformative software, the focus of this post will be the people using the logistics and business intelligence software needed to manage a fleet of autonomous big rigs. Let’s start by identifying who the future end users of the software might be. Here are four employee personas for the future of autonomous trucking.

The Long-haul Logistician

Image: Daimler

Fully autonomous trucks will require very little time or effort with that pesky driving activity. So what becomes of the trucker in this future? The role of the trucker will change to a truck-specific logistics manager who coordinates and manages the operation and load of the vehicle, maintaining efficiency and lowering costs.

The trucker is also no longer tied to a single truck but could be assigned to a specific route, much like flight attendants. With trucks having the capability to run 24-hours a day, truckers of the future may well ride 3 or 4 trucks in a route per day and be back home in time for dinner. A single truck load could be passed between multiple truckers before reaching the final destination.

Long-Haul Logistician Software Highlights:

  • On-board and mobile interaction with the vehicle
  • Multimodal interaction with the vehicle
  • Load management and coordination between disparate suppliers
  • Inter-truck coordination to arrange platooning (autonomous convoys) for cost savings
  • Cost-per-mile and revenue tracking and management
  • Route management and editing
  • Inter and Intra-company scheduling and communication
  • In-transit productivity tools

The Data-Driven Director

Image: Rolls Royce

The Fleet Manager of the future will direct an exponentially more complex system, monitoring not just efficiency, tracking, productivity, cost, and compliance data, but also the massive amounts of data coming from the autonomous vehicle sensors and the compound data from the autonomous fleet. This data can be used to create a hyper-efficient, safer, and more profitable transportation company that cannot be realized today.

Data-Driven Director Software Highlights:

  • Fleet management dashboards
  • AI-Powered route scheduling including maximized load per route and vehicle
  • Real-time vehicles and workers costing per mile
  • Rerouting and reloading capabilities
  • Cost-per-mile and revenue tracking and management
  • Predictive revenue models and actual cost
  • Predictive safety and traffic recommendations
  • Route management and editing
  • Predictive maintenance patterns
  • Maintenance scheduling and costs
  • Inter and Intra-company scheduling and communication

The Mobile Maintenance Mob

Image: Alura Mobile Maintenance Trailers

The trucking business infrastructure could change completely with fleets of autonomous trucks. Companies who need to move goods will no longer need to own their own trucks but can rent routes or space from new-model autonomous fleet companies who run vehicles 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. No idle time for these fleet trucks means no need for stationary truck yards, and that means no need for stationary maintenance teams. The maintenance teams of the future will be mobile, contracted teams that can meet autonomous semis where and when they are needed along their routes. While this provides the flexibility required for an always moving fleet, it does create some complexity for software.

Mobile Maintenance Mob Software Highlights:

  • Mobile and portable technologies are a given and software should be designed accordingly
  • Integration with maintenance technology and the truck’s on-board computers
  • Routing and scheduling capabilities
  • Planning and scoping capabilities for maintenance staff
  • Enhanced or assistive knowledge of autonomous vehicle technology (e.g. virtual or augmented OJT)
  • Inter and Intra-company scheduling and communication
  • Ratings and capabilities tracking
  • Account management
  • Real-time billing and payment capabilities

The Local Livery Liaison

Image: Mercedes

You can start to imagine a future of trucking where platooned big rigs move in unison down express routes, delivering to regional consolidation/distribution centers located near cities throughout the US. But what about moving the transported goods within a region? UPS, Amazon, and FedEx all have long term plans for at least semi-autonomous local delivery, but those fleets will probably arrive farther down the road than their long-haul brethren. In the near term there is a major opportunity for new-economy delivery contractors. Short-haul truckers can deliver the bigger goods locally, while other services, following the Uber Deliver model, can take over residential and priority delivery (I’m being optimistic that Amazon will not completely crush the competition here). This disparate fleet of local delivery people provides yet another angle on the software.

Local Livery Liaison Software Highlights:

  • Automated freight handling and distribution software to create delivery bundles
  • Mobile-first design with an app interface for the delivery drivers
  • Automated route maximization and scheduling capabilities
  • Mobile tracking and signature capabilities
  • Seamless company/contractor/client communication
  • Real-time billing and payment capabilities
  • Ad-hoc creation of delivery fleets and routes
  • Automated driver evaluation

In Conclusion

These four employee personas are just a glimpse at the Autonomous Vehicle jobs of the future. At K+K we think it is important to begin imagining and planning the human interaction and software strategy associated with Autonomous Vehicles. Our background in data visualization, AI, interaction design, and enterprise software provides us the insight to start down the path but there is so much more to come. We hope to see you down the road.



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