More from: trucks

Can Autonomous Trucks Understand Cargo Control

It seems as though the heavy trucking industry is working harder than ever to enter the realm of autonomous trucking. Every time an equipment manufacturer announces even the slightest bit of progress in the arena of automotive autonomy, dozens of news articles and blog posts begin speculating a future where trucks rumble down the highway without drivers sitting in their seats. We would like to suggest a bit of cautious skepticism.

Set aside heavy trucking for one minute and just consider all the hurdles that have to be overcome to make passenger vehicles autonomous. There is a reason we have been working on this for more than a decade and are might still have while towards achieving driverless driving. Autonomous technology must overcome the imperfections of humanity in order to succeed, and that is no easy task. Things are even more complicated when attempting to apply automotive autonomy to heavy trucking.

One of the biggest problems of autonomous trucking is based in cargo control. Both federal and state laws require truck drivers to properly secure their cargo prior to transit, then ensure it remains properly secured until delivery. Such mandates pose a big problem for autonomy. If you are going to truly automate trucking, you must also find a way to automate cargo control.

Loading and Securing Cargo

The first hurdle to overcome is automating cargo loading and securing. This is easier to do with dry vans, refrigerated vans, and other enclosed trailers. It is not so easy with open-deck trailers. In fact, it’s a lot harder in the open-deck environment.

A dry van is really just a box on wheels. It would be fairly simple to automate loading by utilizing a robotic conveyor system and stacking mechanism. Just create uniform pallets and the robots to handle them and you’re all set. We already have the technology to do it. As for flatbeds, it is an entirely different ballgame.

A flatbed, or open-deck trailer, is used primarily to transport cargo that cannot be moved safely or efficiently in an enclosed trailer. That automatically means non-standard loads that cannot be loaded and stacked by robots. It also means manual cargo control that requires the use of chains, straps, blocks, bungees, and truck tarps. Everything you would normally get in a box trailer scenario has to be implemented manually on an open deck.

We may someday have robots capable of inserting blocks and tying down concrete tubes. We might have drones that can deploy truck tarps much more quickly and efficiently than human beings. We may eventually reach a point at which loading lumber is an entirely automated process. However, we are not there yet.

Maintaining Cargo Control

It is a Herculean task just to automate loading and securing cargo. But for trucking to be completely autonomous, there has to be a way to maintain cargo control throughout an entire journey. Now you are talking about computer and robotic systems capable of monitoring chains, straps, etc. while a truck is in transit. And if anything is amiss, the system has to be able to self-correct.

Given the ever-changing environment of cargo control, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to automate the process at any point in the relatively near future. If true trucking autonomy is ever realized, we are likely looking at decades before workable prototypes are even available.

As wonderful as the idea is, autonomous trucking is more fantasy than reality. Cargo control is just one of the many hurdles that science is not close to overcoming at this point.


On-Demand Economy Reshaping the Trucking Industry

An on-demand economy fueled by the sale of smartphones is changing literally every segment of our society. Traditional taxi and livery services are losing out to ride sharing companies while weary travelers can use their smartphones to do everything from ordering a meal to finding last-minute accommodations. Even doctors and nurses have embraced the on-demand economy by using mobile platforms to arrange house calls. So it should come as no surprise that, an on-demand economy is also reshaping the trucking industry. A great case in point being Amazon.

The Internet retailing giant recently began purchasing a fleet of branded trucks and trailers many believe will be just the starting point of a foray into logistics. For the time being, it appears as though the company is looking only to control its shipping rather than having to rely on companies like UPS and FedEx. But who knows? If Amazon is successfully able to handle their shipping and save money at the same time, they just might end up expanding into freight forwarding. But don’t worry, that would not be a bad thing.

trucking

As the Wall Street Journal points out, there is still more than enough freight to go around – even with the entrance of Amazon into logistics. Some of the biggest names in trucking are already working at maximum capacity with still more freight to be accounted for. And like it or not, the on-demand economy is playing an important role in what we are observing.

Speed and the Logistics Sector

Just a decade ago, a veteran truck driver might pick up a flatbed trailer in California and drive its load of steel coil down to Texas. From there he might pick up a dry goods van loaded with imported consumer goods headed for Chicago. That truck driver would spend months at a time on the road without ever seeing home.

While the scenario we just described is still fairly common among long-haul truckers, the model is gradually being replaced by a new model focused more on regional, rather than national, distribution. Shippers and receivers are more content to operate a larger number of smaller distribution facilities in and around major metropolitan hubs in order to get goods from the warehouse to the customer more quickly. This is what Amazon is attempting to accomplish with its trucks and trailers.

In order to meet the needs of the on-demand economy, companies have to have an ample supply of goods on hand. They also have to be close enough to their customers to get those goods delivered in a timely manner. The only way this is possible is by embracing more regional and local distribution.

Truckers Will Keep on Trucking

There are those in the logistics industry who do not see the on-demand economy’s influence as being a good thing. But it actually is. Despite the changes – and we know that change is difficult to embrace – America’s truckers will keep on trucking for decades to come. The big difference will be one of time and distance.

The Wall Street Journal also points out that logistics companies are already looking at charging by the day rather than the mile to account for the needs of the on-demand economy. They are looking at quicker deliveries and shorter routes that have truck drivers home more frequently. It is all about finding the model that works best at keeping wholesale distributors happy so that they, in turn, can keep their customers happy. In the end, there is no need to fear Amazon trucks. They are a positive addition to the logistics industry.

Sources:

  • Wall Street Journal – http://www.wsj.com/articles/trucking-companies-confront-amazon-threat-1453842572

How To Mold Proof Your Poly Tarps

Blue poly tarps are very popular with our clients because they are so versatile. They can be used to cover the bed of a pickup truck, build a lean-to, protect a wood pile, temporarily cover a leaky roof, and so on. With the right care, they are durable enough to last for years. So, what’s all this about mold? Why does it grow on tarps and, more importantly, what do you do about it?

Mold is a type of fungus that grows in multicellular structures, as opposed to single cell fungi classified as yeast. As a group, molds are known to exist in a dizzying number of species with all sorts of interesting characteristics. Yet all molds have a few things in common:

1.They need the right temperature and moisture level to thrive;
2.They are not fussy about their food sources; and
3.They can be very difficult to eradicate once established.

When mold appears on a blue poly tarp, it is because mold spores in the air have come to rest on the tarp and found the right mixture of moisture, food, and heat. That combination is an open invitation to multiply and spread. What many people do not know is that mold spores can be present along before being seen with the naked eye.

PolyTarp

Small but Powerful

Mold spores are a natural part of the environment and are all around us even though, individual spores are too small to see. Furthermore, mold growth is not a constant problem because the vast majority of spores never become airborne. However, all it takes is a windy day to change things. When a fair number of mold spores become airborne, they can easily find their way to any number of surfaces that provide the right conditions for multiplication.

Imagine a blue poly tarp covering your woodpile at home. A bit of wind could deposit mold spores over its surface without your knowledge. Some moderate light during the day, combined with overnight dew, make the top of your tarp a good breeding ground. There is also ample food for the mold by way of any dirt, debris and other organic matter that settles on the tarp. In just a few days, you could see the beginning stages of significant mold growth.

Removing Mold from Poly Tarps

Now that you know why mold grows on your tarps, you need to know how to remove it. Thankfully, it is not difficult. The process starts by spreading the tarp out on a flat surface in a sunny area. Spray the tarp down with a high-powered hose to loosen the mold and any debris surrounding it. Next, use a soft brush and a cleaning solution to scrub the tarp until the mold is gone.

You can purchase commercial mold treatments or make your own with baking soda and white vinegar. Regardless of your choice, you need to get close enough to clearly see the surface of the tarp. If you leave any mold behind, it could continue growing even after your cleaning efforts.

Lastly, hang the tarp up on a rope line – preferably on a warm day and in a sunny area. The faster and more thoroughly you dry out the tarp, the less likely it will be for mold to return. Be sure to fold the tarp and put it away, or re-apply it as it was before, as soon as it is dry. Leaving it to hang on a line for days is just another invitation for mold