Rise of the Robots: A discussion overview from the Ohio Conference on Freight

This past week Smart Cincy partners - including Venture Smarter, Drive Ohio, and the University of Cincinnati (UC) - attended the Ohio Conference on Freight, which was hosted this year by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) in the city of Cincinnati. The Ohio Conference on Freight is the Midwest’s leading freight conference, convening professionals from across North America to share their expertise in the areas of supply chain/logistics, smart transportation technology and federal and state policies supporting freight-related transportation and economic development.

Within the smart transportation technology theme, Venture Smarter CEO Zack Huhn was invited to speak on a panel dedicated to demystifying hyperloop technology and to also moderate a panel exploring the pros and cons of autonomous transportation systems.


The panel session on autonomous transportation systems was aptly labeled "Rise of the Robots", and considered current and expected impacts of technology on “human” employment and future workforce needs. Zack Huhn moderated the panel, which included Dr. Jiaqi Ma, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering - Transportation at the University of Cincinnati and Josh Sikich, Transportation Technology Program Manager at HDR.

Dr. Ma provided several outstanding examples of the new kinds of technology emerging in the transportation space, with emphasis given to commercial trucking technology that allows multiple trucks to "platoon", which means to drive very close to one another to cut down on air resistance and thereby increase fuel efficiency. Other transportation technologies discussed include full autonomous trucks, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and artificial intelligence systems. These and other advances could cut down on traffic congestion, save fuel, increase safety, and cut operating costs.

These opportunities do not come without any downsides though. Mr. Sikich, who advises governments on workforce issues, outlined the expected short-term challenges for truck drivers as new technologies are deployed: "It is estimated that 1.3-3 million trucking jobs will be automated over the next several decades."

This staggering figure stimulated lively discussion in the room based around several key questions: Does automation really eliminate jobs, or just create new jobs elsewhere? How do we reeducate such a large workforce, or do we just help to facilitate smooth landings in other jobs or earlier than expected retirements? What will future jobs in the trucking industry actually look like, and how can we train new workers to be prepared for those jobs?

It was agreed that the transition period from human-controlled to semi- or fully-autonomously controlled trucks needs to be handled with care, as there are disruptive changes on the horizon. Venture Smarter's Zack Huhn asked that everyone in the room "think about how these technologies can be used to close, rather than exacerbate, socio-economic divides."

Are you interested in learning about the emerging technologies, policies and strategies that are shaping the future of transportation, workforce and governance in our cities and regions?  This October, join Smart Cincy in connecting with leaders from across the country at the second annual Smart Regions Conference in Columbus, OH.

Among the largest ‘smart cities’ leadership events in North America, the 2018 Smart Regions Conference will convene leaders from all levels of government and across sectors for a dynamic day of programming, including TED-style speakers, power panels, an innovation corridor, the 2018 Smart Infrastructure Challenge project pitches and awards, and much more.  To learn more or register for the event, visit smartregions.org/conference.


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