On a test track in Pittsburgh, an 18-wheel tractor-trailer rounded a curve. No one is behind the steering wheel. The truck’s sensors spot a trash can blocking one lane and a tire in another. In less than a second it signaled, then moved into the unobstructed lane and passed the obstacles.

The self-driving semi, outfitted with 25 laser, radar and camera sensors, is owned by Pittsburgh-based Aurora Innovation. The technology, called Aurora Driver, can operate vehicles ranging from a four-door sedan to a semi-truck. Currently, Aurora has about 30 autonomous haul trucks in operation on the road in Texas, making 75 deliveries a week for customers such as FedEx and Uber Freight. The trucks aren’t really “driverless” yet: An operations specialist sits on board and can take over, if needed.

Safety Is a Key Hold-up

Autonomous trucking companies like Aurora believe they are just a few years away from being mainstream. In January 2024, the company announced it would produce its self-driving haul trucks in the thousands by 2027 through its partnership with German auto parts manufacturer Continental.

But why the delay? A key issue is safety. In 2018, a self-driving Uber car killed a pedestrian in Arizona. That led to increased scrutiny of the autonomous vehicle companies as a whole, and the development stalled.

Regulations also hamper the growth of the self-driving truck industry. Every state has different regulations, which makes long-haul testing difficult. Standardized rules nationwide could help speed up the manufacture of autonomous trucks.

Making Way for Progress

Adding to the delay is the government’s concern to protect existing jobs. Autonomous vehicle companies assure truckers that their services will still be needed, even if it’s just to have a human take over the last mile drive into the city.

While some may lose their jobs, the process whereby old industries are disrupted by new technology will be beneficial, according to experts. Everyone benefits from cheaper goods, faster shipping, and fewer tired truck drivers in fewer accidents.

The change may seem like a rocky road for now. But, it’s encouraging to think that the progress which will benefit all mankind will come, and soon. If you have been in an accident with a commercial truck, contact a Chicago truck accident attorney today to learn about your case.