Imagine you’re on the highway behind a semi-truck, and decide to pass it, as you do you look to your right and there is no cab or driver. Driver-less cars are almost here, and many industries are working together to realize the futuristic achievement. Semi-trucks are only being held back by legal issues but have the technology and we already have autonomous tractors.
Farming is a great medium to start with autonomous vehicles because there is no traffic in the field and it increases accuracy and production. The higher the production the more security a farmer has, but not everyone will benefit from the changes. Rob Mueller, Owner/Operator at Mueller Trucking, and Gary Stangness, Owner/Operator at Tri-S Fertilizers, say the technology is a plus but it could also threaten small business owners and communities that rely on them.
Farming is a way of life and many cities and towns in Alberta identify with the heritage and culture of farming. According to Agriculture Canada, the agriculture sector in Canada makes up 8% of the economy, employs over 2.1 million people and contributes $87.9 Billion dollars. Many families in the prairie provinces depend on the agriculture for their livelihood and it encompasses the culture of their community.
Harvesting a good crop is a time sensitive process that is very weather dependent. Families often rely on community support to get the harvest done on time by hiring on farm hands. But technology has made it possible for farmers to be more accurate in everything from planting to harvest. They now produce higher yields of crops, and in turn, more profit for the owner and economy without hiring help.
Albertans take farming seriously and Owner/Operator at Tri-S Fertilizers, Gary Stangness says that it’s a huge part of the culture in Innisfail. Gary has been in the Agriculture industry for 45 years and he says since he started Innisfail has lost that sense of community that it once had. Ultimately, it has a lot to do with the way that technology has affected local businesses. It’s the local businesses who are the ones donating and supporting the local community programs like the Rotary club and 4-H.
“I just lost a loyal customer of 15 years today. He called, and he says to me, I’m sorry but it just doesn’t make sense when I can get it all at one place. It’s the bundles these corporations are making, I’m not a department store and unless I diversify or adapt to the technology, I’m going to be out of business in a year.”
The problem is that these businesses are facing is that autonomous vehicles for the industry are expensive and about $800 thousand dollars for a tractor. This means that unless you have the capital to invest, you will be driven out of business. This doesn’t mean that the technology is all bad. Gary admits, “the technology is right, but the corporations will be the ones to have the capital to harness the influx of technology.”
Rob Mueller owns and operates his own trucking company and often transports agricultural products. He is in High River and has had lots of experience with the changing technologies and regulations in the trucking industry. He says he would invest in autonomous technology if it were truly dependable and cost effective. He brings up valid points and questions shared by most employers and Transportation Canada is trying to balance and understand how to integrate the nuances . Still, he admits that he would not want to invest in autonomous trucks until there is more clarification on liability.
A rise in semi-truck collisions in Canada makes for a great argument to move forward with autonomous trucks but when there is a collision there is still some concern over who would be at fault. if there was a law suit the trucking company and the driver are at fault, but if the technology is reliable, technically the vehicle manufacturer could be at fault. Until these issues are resolved, Rob Mueller expects it will take time before it really takes over the industry.
When driver-less vehicles do take over the industry, until the technology is more affordable, there won’t be immediate adoption for all businesses, and immediate risk of the loss of small businesses.
“It would be a pretty big expense, I would expect, to get the truck going and on the road. And then if the driver still has to be a part of it, where does it justify spending the extra money, right?” – Rob Mueller
Rob explains that there is many employers looking for drivers and there is a shortage of applicants. Autonomous vehicles could relieve this shortage and help aide in the growing demand for transportation, but the cost needs to be affordable for smaller businesses to survive into the future.
Corporations are taking over the agriculture industry and it’s affecting the local businesses first. Without these businesses, and these mom-and-pop shops, communities are losing a parts fo their identities and their jobs. As the knowledge and technology era advances it continues to drastically change business and communities in many ways both bringing us closer and separating us.