No more trucks

By John Latta
Executive Editor
[email protected]

All over the country, technology students are trying to figure out how to put you out of work.

They have been presented with a challenge by their teachers: “The ‘No Trucks’ Design Challenge.” Simply put, the technology teachers ask their students to find a way to remove big rigs from our highways.

The challenge was delivered to teachers in a magazine, The Technology Teacher, a peer-reviewed bi-monthly publication of the International Technology Education Association. The Association and the magazine have a long history, both beginning in 1939. Their mission involves the promotion of teaching (and teachers of) technology, and the magazine goes to technology teachers to both keep them up to speed on their specialty and, as in this case, to help them find ways to set young minds grappling with unconventional problems.

Noting that the “giant rigs, according to some transportation experts, may have outlived their usefulness on crowded highways, and perhaps it is time we rethink their presence on American roadways,” the magazine delivers: “The Challenge: The job of your students is to create unique new ways to move the goods that are now moved via automotive tractor-trailers. And in this endeavor, the students may not develop ideas where conventional tractor-trailer containerized trailers are delivered in any way over the existing highway system. This cargo cannot be simply loaded onto another class of highway vehicle. They may not add more containerized cargo to the railroads either. They must develop a completely new way to move truck cargo. They are free to pursue any other alternative they wish. This challenge is completely open-ended, with just the constraints mentioned above.”

“There’s a different challenge in each issue,” says The Technology Teacher’s editor Katie de la Paz, “and the idea of each one is to help technology teachers get students to think about a problem where there is no easy, predictable solution. We are certainly not anti-truck, I can assure you.”

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The challenges are the work of Harry T. Roman, a well regarded retired engineer and author of technology education books. “This is his forte,” says de la Paz of Roman’s ability to stretch the minds of young technology thinkers.

Roman always offers a thoughtful basket of backup information. In this case he introduces the “No Trucks” challenge with an exhortation to technology teachers to “encourage your students to dream first and challenge the boundaries before they settle down to develop a single idea.” He suggests students work in teams and find a variety of alternative ways to move goods before settling on the one that would work best. Consider, he says, where the goods must be delivered and use anything from aerial maps to GPS maps to search for off-highway routes to use or find new routes. Talk to highway planners, local city planners, businesses and store owners, he says.

“It might be possible,” writes Roman, “to consider a whole new type of infrastructure that is dedicated to moving goods and services to densely populated areas directly without the need for roadways, conventional railroads and large trucks.”

The challenge reminds the students that if they can think of ways to bulk deliver goods to cities they will also need to find a way to move them on to suburban and rural customers. He also lets them know that whatever ideas they come up with they’ll have to figure out ways to deal with the physical and emotional disruptions caused by implementing the plans and, of course, ways to finance them. Students will also have to find ways to be allowed to use any new corridors they propose, and to this end Roman suggests thinking about how electric utilities or oil companies find new pipeline or high-voltage line routes.

Roman also considers you and me. “Don’t forget,” he tells the students, “the impacts on the trucking and transportation industry. What happens here? How do their workers and industry transition during this changeover to a new way to move bulk cargo.” Thanks Harry, but I’m going to be editor of Hot Air Freight Balloon and Zeppelin Carrier Drivers’ News.”

OK, so it ain’t gonna happen. But maybe some of you with a long drive ahead of you and not much else to occupy your mind today might have fun conjuring up some innovative ways to put yourself out of a job.