I’m a firm believer in the power of technology to transform our lives for the better. Moving freight more efficiently, more quickly, and more safely is a big way that technology can serve mankind.

The press is filled with ideas for tracking freight, moving trucks with different levels of autonomy, hiring the right people with computer-based software, videos on demand for training while stuck in a sleeper on the road, and cameras for monitoring anything and everything. Before we drive away with technology, let’s be sure we have a firm foundation in the road bed, the tires, and the wheel ends. Let’s get the BASICs right!

No, I do not mean the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC) program. I mean the basic physics of starting, moving, and stopping a vehicle. We still have trouble with batteries, battery cables, and starters for getting an engine to start turning. Batteries that corrode, swell, and lose their charge. Cables that are green. Teeth on starters that are chipped and broken. Engines that don’t keep running because the after-treatment system needs a reboot. Oh, strike that. It’s not a computer (really?) that needs a reboot, it needs to go through regen instead of running and keeping the vehicle moving. Let’s take a 15-30 minute break while that happens. And, don’t forget the problems with stopping the vehicle. On May 3, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) did an unannounced one-day inspection, and 12% of the vehicles were put out of service for brake-related critical item vehicle violations. Overall, 21% of the vehicles inspected were put out of service.

Some have said that autonomous vehicle research and development is more like the space program of the 1960s. It’s more about what you will learn and advances you will make in related areas that matters, than that we have a fully-autonomous, Level-5 vehicle on the road. I can readily identify with that. In the mid-80s, I began working to automate a mechanical transmission. I quickly learned many things about the process of shifting and meshing gears that others had not yet discerned. It’s now 30 years later and an extremely high percentage of new vehicles have automatic and automated mechanical transmissions.

For us to reach the goals of autonomous vehicles in the next 30 years, we will need to solve the basic physics problems mentioned above. Technology Is Great, But Get the BASICs Right!