The Over the Road podcast, a co-production of Overdrive and PRX’s Radiotopia podcast network, finished its run of eight main episodes last year with this final episode, titled “The Road Ahead,” in which Overdrive contributing writer and Moeller Trucking driver Paul Marhoefer documented a yogurt haul outbound from the Midwest to Texas and then to the 2019 Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, Texas. There, the OTR crew explored the implications for drivers of new technology in trucking – specifically, the march toward vehicles capable of more autonomous operation.
As host Marhoefer asked, "What happens to all the truckers who simply want to live life out on the road?"
[Related: General public leery about sharing the roads with robots]
Automation has become a fundamental piece of the way so many think about the future of trucks and trucking, including regulators who seem bent on preparing the way in the name of safety. Regular listeners may recall news that aired just a couple weeks ago here in which the acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration expressed her view that, though the timeline is ultimately unknown, that “automated future,” as some say, is coming.
It's unclear, though, given the structure of our highway system, whether the American public will ever feel fully comfortable with the notion of sharing the road with 80,000-lb. robots, without an operator therein as capable "overseer," one might say, of the machine. But as more folks are eventually ferried around by wheeled robots themselves, it could be more of a likely prospect, not to mention the impulses with which the old dollar-signs-in-the-eye dynamic can infect even the most staid among us.
The future looks pretty fuzzy, as it were. Don’t forget to pack your reading glasses. Take a listen:
[Related: A case for manual shifting, for less (not more) automation, for engagement on the long road]
Hear all eight of our re-aired installments of Over the Road, from first to last, in the following playlist.