Technology

Trade Group: Driverless Trucks Could Solve Oil-Shipping Crisis

With oil-rich North Dakota raising fresh shipping concerns, the Central North American Trade Corridor Association hopes to make use of driverless semi-trucks to ease the shipment of oil along a key transport route.

Oddly enough, a dedicated highway for self-driving semi-trucks might be closer to reality than you might guess.

It might sound like a crazy idea, but the Central North American Trade Corridor Association is considering the possibilities. CNATCA is eyeing a strategy that would give driverless trucks dedicated access to U.S. Highway 83, which runs through six states from the Canadian province of Manitoba to the Mexican border. The group hopes to discuss the plan with local communities along the highway and to figure out the complexities of border crossings.

One of the six states served by U.S. 83 is North Dakota, which is currently struggling with the supply chain headaches caused by an oil boom. Last month, a large train fire in the state forced the evacuation of a small town.

“One of the challenges we have here in North Dakota is that we have a lot of energy production going on right now, but not enough pipelines to carry the oil from North Dakota to its destination point,” CNATCA member Marlo Anderson told the Canadian Press news agency.

There are plenty of concerns about self-driving vehicles at the moment—including economic worries—but the solution might be less controversial than the long-proposed Keystone XL pipeline, for a number of reasons. For one thing, it would take advantage of existing infrastructure and technology. It would also ease pressure on the supply chain infrastructure while helping to alleviate the trucking industry’s problem of driver fatigue, Anderson noted.

“They don’t need to worry about a driver having too many hours in a day or in a week. Those types of things go by the wayside because the vehicle doesn’t care,” he said.

In an interview with Tech.co, Anderson said his group’s thinking had been inspired by another recent hot topic: drones, a technology that CNATCA believes could be put to good use along the trade corridor.

“The FAA keeps shutting these organizations down, but we thought that if we could give the FAA and the states some physical area where it’s legal to play with this new tech and do commerce it could be a footprint moving forward,” he said.

When could it happen? Well, the future is coming sooner than you might expect: The Freightliner Inspiration, which keeps a driver around but is otherwise automated, is already running on Nevada roads.

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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