F.B. International’s Weekend Digest is a breakdown of noteworthy items we discovered throughout the week.
Each week the team at F.B. chooses some ‘good reads’ we think you may enjoy.
Automation is the next big wave in transportation—so much so that it hardly bears mentioning. Developers are rapidly creating new technologies that reliably get people and things from point A to point B, sans a driver. The breadth of these innovations shouldn’t be understated, either. Busy commuters in city centers and rural dwellers alike will have some form of constant interaction with autonomous vehicles sooner or later, if they don’t already. Although there’s nothing wrong with anxiously awaiting what’s to come, it pays to keep in mind what—or who—will get left behind. The trucking industry in the Midwest is a great case to consider.
It’s no secret that titans like Amazon, Apple, and Uber have increased spending on driverless technology. Aside from the changes this will bring to individual car ownership and ridesharing, it’s also dramatically changing the freight world. TuSimple has become a silent giant in this arena. In its latest round of funding, the company, backed by both Sina Corp and Composite capital, now has a valuation around $1 billion. With this, the company plans to expand routes into the southwest and increase its driverless fleet from 12 to 50 trucks by June. There are limitless possibilities for the driverless freight world, but what does this spell out for those currently transporting America’s goods?
In a recent interview, entrepreneur and presidential hopeful Andrew Yang explained that truck driving is the most common occupation in 29 states—most of which are located right in the Midwest. Yang adds that the average trucker is a middle-aged man with a high school education. It’s unlikely that someone from that demographic will be able to painlessly transition careers once his job is rendered obsolete thanks to driverless technology. Vehicles like the ones that TuSimple makes can log more transportation hours than a human and will save firms millions in wages that they won’t have to pay to these machines. Although driverless is good for business, it will have crippling effects on the communities of the 3.5 million people who are truck drivers today.
At the same time, it would be one sided to ignore the benefits that autonomous vehicle technology is bringing to middle America. Investments in this sector have allowed Michigan, for example, to reconnect with its auto industry roots. A recent VentureBeat article outlines some of the ways this technology is bringing auto innovation back to Michigan. On the one hand, Waymo—Google’s arm in driverless technology–confirmed that “it will turn a factory in Detroit into a retrofitting facility for level four autonomous vehicles.” Ford and GM, the two largest automakers left in the state, continue to pour funds into mobility-related technology. Ford recently announced its plan to donate funds totaling $15 million for a new robotics lab at the University of Michigan. These investments will not only bolster economic growth in Detroit and Ann Arbor, but are sure to positively impact human development in the surrounding areas as well.
Michigan has a well-known history in the auto industry and is home to a renowned research institution. Based on this, it’s unsurprising that this state is a more attractive hub for developing mobility technologies than its neighbors. Not everywhere in the Midwest, or the country as a whole, is this fortunate. What can be done to mitigate losses for states that will end up with the short stick in the driverless revolution?
Progress can be slow, or it can happen at lightning speed; but it never ceases. There’s no stopping the advancements in mobility that will change how people and things are transported. If there’s one thing that should be kept in mind, it’s to make sure that human development in America’s heartland isn’t left behind for the sake of technological development.
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