We are facing a food distribution crisis. We have stockpiles of rotting food at farms and in warehouses, and no ability to transport it to hungry people - whether they have money to buy the food or not. COVID-19 caused the entire freight industry to shift to food transportation, since there is a dramatically reduced demand for transport of automotive parts or other big money consumer items. The abrupt closure of businesses where food is consumed has caused a disruption in an already volatile trucking and logistics industry, and a sharp cliff is expected after the demand from food hoarding ends.
The most vulnerable piece in the food supply chain is the truck driver. There was already a shortage of qualified truck drivers. Now truck driving has become a very difficult, high risk, and even painful job. Truck drivers can no longer stop at their favorite places - they have to plan their whole routes around places that allow them to rest, use the bathroom, shower, and eat. Office-bound trucking company employees are now working from home, which adds additional challenges in routing.
The drivers are older, of generally poor health, don't have the best diet or sleep patterns, and travel constantly, which puts them in a very high risk group for contracting the virus. Also, if they get sick on the road, most drivers have no idea what they will do, which causes them additional anxiety. The job has become unprofitable, as loads of food are taken into many areas where the truck must "dead head" back out, meaning the trucker and owner of the truck lose a lot of money driving an empty truck to the pickup location of the next load. Some truckers are told that they can't have a helper for loading and unloading, because the helper is not allowed to go onto the loading dock. All in all, being a trucker has become a terrible job, yet 80% of the goods we receive are brought to our regions by trucks. There needs to be a solution for reducing the number of drivers needed.
Such a solution was done in driverless fleet pilot programs - we know of one in Colorado, and another in Florida. In these programs, a driverless fleet was used - which in reality is a fleet of trucks with a driver in only the first and last truck. This could reduce the number of drivers needed by about half. For a driverless fleet, official communication is critical to make sure that the authorities have a say in how it operates. This is especially important in construction zones due to worker safety and higher chance of accidents. Carnak can solve this issue by providing a layer of authority to autonomous fleets that will help them to anticipate roadway assets in construction areas. Using Carnak as part of the traffic engineers' workflow, assets are documented and communicated to autonomous fleets roaming the area. This approach could speed the adoption of autonomous fleets and relieve the driver shortage. Adoption of autonomous fleets has the potential to smooth out our food supply chain and open up new ways for truck owners and operators to make money.
In order to pursue this, we need to find a partnership with a company or group that is testing autonomous fleets.
Here is an article by Karen Kilroy about the shortage of truckers and autonomous fleets: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/open-letter-us-supply-chain-government-what-drivers-karen-kilroy/