Will autonomous cars eliminate driving jobs?
Autonomous vehicles might be a double-edged sword for the driving sector, and they’re well on the way - people with personal interest across the board are already sponsoring legislation to speed up the process of getting them onto our roads.
With well-developed local autonomous driving laws already taking shape across various parts of Australia, law-makers are on track to see to a smooth transition that takes everyone on board.
There are a number of predicted outcomes for how autonomous vehicles could impact real human drivers. In the worst-case scenario, autonomous vehicles might drain away jobs, taking millions from the sector. In a zero-sum scenario, there might be a decrease in certain types of driving-related jobs and an increase in others. And in the best case, we’ll see an increase in desirable jobs and a reduction in more physically demanding jobs in the sector.
As it turns out, the worse cast scenario is the least plausible within the next few decades given the level of automation needed for it to hold To back up the plausibility of the best case scenario, here are 5 reasons why autonomous driving might not be the worst thing to happen to driving jobs.
Only One-Fifth of Driving Jobs are Actually at Risk
A 2017 report from the Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics and Administration shows that driving-related jobs employed some 15.5mn people in the U.S. Only about a fifth of them operate motor vehicles like trucks and taxis.
So if autonomous vehicles take over the roads completely, they’ll only take away a small fraction of driving-related jobs. If anything, driving jobs related to off-the-road tasks such as customer care, emergency management, registration and booking, and auto repairs will only increase.
Level 5 Automation is Still Several Decades Away
According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, there are 5 levels of automation, based on the extent to which human intervention is needed. At level 0, there is no automation, and at level 5, no human intervention is required. As it turns out, level 5 automation is still several decades away, and what we’re mostly looking forward to in the nearest future are level 2 and 3 automation.
That implies that humans will still be placed in charge of many functions of the autonomous vehicles, especially around city streets. And even when level 4 and 5 self driving cars are produced out on a mass scale, they’ll most likely be consigned to interstates and highways for the long run rather than busy city streets.
Drivers Don’t Just Stay Behind the Wheel
Even if autonomous vehicles navigate the road without human intervention, they still can’t fully replace drivers. Drivers do a whole lot more than just drive, including checking the vehicles, repairing vehicles that break down in the middle of the road, loading and securing cargo, and provide customer service. Most of these other tasks are completely beyond the scope of automation as we know it. What we’ll most likely see is a level of automation that assists drivers to make their job easier.
Legislation Preventing Companies from Taking Over
Lawmakers across various levels are keen to ensure that the introduction of autonomous vehicles doesn’t leave a negative net impact on society. Regulations are also in place to prevent companies from deploying level 4 - 5 autonomous vehicles without proper maintenance and servicing facilities in place to cater for vehicle malfunctions along the way.
Current certification will need to find an equivalent to ensure that vehicles are being operated safely – endorsements such as the CDL air brakes test for truck drivers will need to be updated for the new driving landscape, whether that looks like certifying remote operators or ensuring coders have that kind of specific knowledge to produce safe vehicles.
Throw into the mix the complexities of interstates with multiple parties setting standards across various jurisdictions, and fully self driving cars will have to navigate many regulatory barriers before they even get onto the road in a commercial setting.
The Rise of Teleoperation
Rather than fully automated cars, what we’ll likely see in the near future is an increase in teleoperated vehicles. Many autonomous companies are putting truckers and drivers behind a desk in a control-room filled with screens and steering setups.
From trucks and forklifts to delivery robots, these teleoperation centers are equipped to carry out transportation and logistics tasks remotely. The drivers intervene mostly during unusual situations or when the trucks approach busy areas. As such, teleoperation allows truckers to handle more than one vehicle at a time, reducing the need for physically demanding driving jobs.
AI Could Add Jobs
Rather than suck away millions of jobs in the driving sector, autonomous vehicles, together with the IoT and proliferation of highly competitive connectivity plans will most likely strengthen the sector and make life easier for drivers.
What’s more, the transportation industry is usually one of the slowest to adopt new technology - the number of old-model cars and trucks on the road is a good indication of this fact.
Of course, as the number of autonomous vehicles increases, many people will need to re-skill. But it seems that instead of a steady stream of autonomous vehicles taking jobs from drivers, the introduction of this new technology will be more gradual, and will modify the existing arrangement rather than replacing it entirely. Drivers may have to change the way they operate, but they are unlikely to be replaced by a robot – at least, not in the near future.
The Rise of the Intelligent Service Chain
In their recent book The Technology Fallacy, authors Gerald C Kane, Anh Nguyen Phillips, Jonathan R Copulsky and Garth R Andrus found a strong correlation between the way a company is organised and how well it responds to chronic digital disruption. The more digitally mature a company is, the more likely it is to be organised around cross-functional teams. Management processes are less likely to interfere with day-to-day work, especially digitally, and this also leads to greater autonomy and increased speed and agility.
This was a pre-Covid assessment of digital transformation and disruption and why organisations need to focus on people and processes and not necessarily on technology. As we now look ahead into the immediate future, to Dr Fauci’s ‘Pandemic Age’ of economic uncertainty, increased competition and shifting customer demands and expectations, this idea becomes incredibly strong, especially when applied to field service. To meet the challenges ahead, organisations do not need to keep throwing technology at problems, like sticking plaster over wounds. There needs to be a collective response across the value chain that focuses on people and their processes and procedures – then technology can be applied to make it all work better.
If we now accept that working from home or remote working is the de facto standard of working (at least for the foreseeable future), we have to start evolving this idea of creating an intelligent service chain. How can organisations help technicians and service teams do their job now that they have to work remotely? Is there any way in which processes and procedures can be improved? Despite the enforced changes, how can organisations increase value for customers while improving their own efficiencies?
The move to asset centricity
Maintaining and monitoring entire asset estates over the last few months has undoubtedly been a challenge in most industries, especially those at the centre of the pandemic in healthcare and manufacturing. However, in many cases, rapid adoption of digital tools has led to a fragmented approach to working processes, as if all of a sudden, engineers are constrained by the limits of the technology and have to gear their work based on what is technically possible. When everyone was up against it and urgency was needed just to keep the lights on, it didn’t matter as much - but now we have to look at whether what is in place is right for the job moving forward. This has led to even greater adoption of field service management platforms globally as organisations digitise their service functions.
There has certainly been a greater focus on asset centricity. And now organisations must think about how to evolve what has been a rapid change in their service practises. Intelligence and visibility are now required up and down the service chain, to align people, processes, technology and of course, outcomes for customers. Without this visibility, organisations will continue to build fragmented service operations based on piecemeal technologies.
Key to enabling accurate visibility is the use of AI/ML automation. To date, AI has mostly been around the scheduling process but by applying AI to assets, it is possible to make better decisions around the timing of maintenance work, as well as parts required, and which engineers are most suitable to carry out the work. It is possible to also factor in self-service capabilities and where the engineer can help remotely through augmented tools, for example, and where the engineer is needed on-site.
Understanding customers and more importantly, understanding their assets to a granular level, will go a long way to reducing downtime, increasing asset optimisation and product enhancements, as well as improving inventory and HR management organisation. By having a 360 view of assets in real-time, it will be possible to organise service models that not only improve processes and procedures for engineers but also offer exceptional results and value for customers. Even during a pandemic.
The role of AI/ML, IoT and 5G in the context of intelligent field service platforms making this possible should not be underestimated. These are leading-edge analytics and communications technologies but that alone is not enough. If organisations chase the technology and ignore the fundamentals of which processes can actually improve services, while at the same time reduce costs, they will come unstuck. This is not a time to be gung-ho, but rather a time to thrive if service teams are given the intelligence they need to do the job.