Loadsmart and Starsky Complete First Autonomous Truck Dispatch

August 08, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Digital freight broker Loadsmart and self-driving truck developer Starsky Robotics completed what they say is the first autonomous dispatch and delivery of freight.

The team paired in late July to book and deliver a load of corn in Texas with minimal human involvement.

Loadsmart digitally priced, tendered and booked the shipment. A Starsky self-driving truck picked up and delivered the raw corn to a customer in Grand Prairie, Texas.

“The historic initiative is part of a larger strategic partnership that paves the way for the future of trucking: autonomous brokerages dispatching freight to autonomous trucks without human involvement,” the companies said in a statement.

REDUCING SHIPPING COSTS

Both companies are betting that technology can shave the cost of shipping goods.

Trucks move most cargo throughout the U.S., about 70 percent of all freight. The trucking industry collected $800 billion in revenue last year.

But the industry faces significant challenges. Truckers are limited in how much they can drive daily and weekly. That improves safety but slows the flow of goods. The industry also struggles to recruit new drivers even as its workforce ages and retires. The American Trucking Associations estimates the industry is short 60,000 drivers.

CREATING EFFICIENCY

Automating freight delivery can speed the flow of goods and reduce the number of drivers required by the industry.

“It’s not uncommon for a traditional trucking company to have five full-time employees involved in dispatching each truck for each load,” said Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, chief executive and founder of Starsky Robotics.

“We’re bringing the efficiency of Silicon Valley to the trucking industry,” Seltz-Axmacher told Trucks.com.

Integrating e-brokers like Loadsmart into its vehicle-communications software will allow Starsky to autonomously dispatch cargo in self-driving trucks along routes qualified for autonomous driving, Seltz-Axmacher said.

“Autonomous vehicles play an integral role in our vision of delivering end-to-end automated shipping and logistics services,” said Ricardo Salgado, Loadsmart’s chief executive.

STRATEGIC PAIRING

The combination of digital freight brokers and autonomous trucks will disrupt trucking, said Hunter Yaw, Loadsmart’s vice president of product.

“We are moving from a load-to-truck world to a truck-to-load one,” Yaw said. “Carriers will benefit from this feature by keeping their trucks full days in advance.”

Such partnerships are likely to expand as freight and logistics become increasingly digital, said Cathy Morrow Roberson of Atlanta-based Logistics Trends & Insights.

“Eventually I see the marriage between digital freight brokerages and autonomous trucks,” Roberson said. “It makes sense from an efficiency and timing perspective. And it could be beneficial as the trucking market continues to struggle with attracting and retaining drivers.”

SPORADIC TESTS

However, the adoption and testing of autonomous trucks are still limited to select areas of the U.S., Roberson said. That restricts the pairing with digital brokerages for the short term.

“But it should gain traction as autonomous trucks become more the norm than the exception,” Roberson said.

Starsky plans to begin commercialization next month. To find potential problems an autonomous fleet might face, the company has a six-person team operating a 40-truck fleet.

“We want to triple the size of that fleet by the end of the year, but we don’t want to triple the size of our operations team,” Seltz-Axmacher said.

He plans to build 25 autonomous trucks by the end of this year. To limit human involvement, Starsky intends to use its proprietary application programming interface, or API, to dispatch the trucks for tests.

“What we are doing is creating an API that brokers can use to negotiate for additional capacity and then hire that capacity without anybody talking to anyone else,” Seltz-Axmacher said.

Alan Adler June 25, 2019
Supplier ZF Friedrichshafen thinks Level 4 autonomous trucking is better tested in a controlled freight terminal than on open highways.

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