HERE’S A sobering thought for people who make their living from driving — whether it be cabbies, delivery trucks or big haul trucks at mines and the oilsands. Your job might not exist within a few years.
We’ve all heard a lot about driverless cars, a technology that has a few wrinkles to work out but that will likely be perfected in the near future. Cab drivers might soon be out of work. Even driverless 18-wheelers are expected to be ready for the highways soon, potentially putting transport truck drivers in the unemployment lines.
It’s no small thing — more than 200,000 Canadians make their living driving the big rigs.
Then, of course, there are bus and delivery-service drivers. And those big haul trucks at mines and the oil patch.
According to CIBC, “autonomous” haul trucks could be the next thing at the oilsands. Suncor Energy has been testing the technology for a couple of years.
All of Suncor’s new trucks have the ability to go fully autonomous, and the shift could be complete by the end of the decade. Fully autonomous means the trucks could be operated with or without drivers.
The Globe and Mail quoted Suncor’s chief financial officer Alistair Cowan two years ago as saying, “It’s not fantasy. Autonomous trucks work in Australia, there’s a couple of mines down there, and you’ve obviously seen the developments from a car perspective.”
And Cameron Yost, a spokesman for Shell Canada Ltd. in Calgary, said in the same article, “Automated hauling at our mines is something we are exploring.”
It’s not only about saving on labour costs — drivers and heavy machinery operators make a good living. Other perceived benefits include improved safety, less downtime, less maintenance and fewer kilometres put on the machinery.
There’s still work to be done before driverless technology takes over from humans, of course. One issue is the need for security systems that would prohibit hackers from taking control of vehicles.
But it would be foolish to assume jobs that involve getting behind the wheel of a transport vehicle or industrial machine are necessarily going to be around forever. And it could happen sooner than we might have imagined.