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Week of 27 Feb 2017: Future jobs in transportation

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We have spent the entire month talking about driverless trucks, drones, robots and so forth. So what is in the future for humans in this scenario?

Building, maintaining, improving all of this equipment will require some highly skilled people. It is just like making paper. One hundred years ago, how many people would it have taken to make 1,000 tons of paper per day? Four hundred? Five hundred? Who knows? Today it takes about eight operator-class people per shift. Where are the myriad humans in today's paper mill? In maintenance!

We are going to see this same phenomenon occur in the transportation industry in about ten years or less. Think of a truck as a movable paper machine. There will be operators sitting in a control room somewhere monitoring the overall operations of hundreds or thousands of trucks.

There will be emergency maintenance people, too, who will be in the field rescuing trucks that have broken down or been in an accident.

There will be many more in nice, clean shops doing mechanical maintenance. And even more maintaining the electronics and software to keep all of this machinery moving smoothly.

Just like a paper machine.


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We get clues as to what this will be like by looking at the industry that has always led the industrial revolution, with efficiency gains that defy belief: agriculture. Now, John Deere has declared that the farmers do not own their tractors. Because of all the software and electronics necessary to run a modern tractor, John Deere has taken the position of licensing to use it for the life of the tractor, but the user may not alter it. GM is taking the same stance. This was reported in WIRED last spring.

This gives you a clue as to how important the design, maintenance and upgrading of all these systems to keep driverless trucks humming will be. If the suppliers of the equipment, electronics and software see that it is worthwhile to protect what they are now calling their intellectual property, they will no doubt be employing sharp technicians to keep it all running. What has not been sorted out yet, is who will own what and who will maintain it.

So, if you want to work in this nascent field, you will need to choose your employer wisely, for certainly there will be a winnowing of winners and losers in short order.


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Where does this leave the trucking companies? Maybe they were ahead of all of us when they changed their names to Joe's Logistics Corporation. For if the trucks can be maintained only by the truck supplier, the software can be maintained only by the software supplier and all the wireless stuff is copyrighted by its supplier, the trucking company is relegated to dispatching and updating delivery dates, or so it seems.

This all means that if the transportation industry fascinates you, you need to choose your career path wisely and your employer even more carefully. I think if I were young and interested in this sector, I would want to work in the logistics department of a well-established paper company, producing grades that have a long horizon.

What do you think? Please take our quiz this week here.

And of course, safety is always a big part of all transportation activities.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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