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Entrepreneurship

Electric and Autonomous and Barreling into the Ways We Do Business

There are a few baseline industries that are so critical to the overall infrastructure of a nation that any change in those industries can have profound effects on the overall economy. Home building is a well known example. Another is transportation and shipping. Even minor changes in either of these industries can cause unanticipated ripples to roll over other areas of productivity.

Over the coming ten years, the Canadian logistics and shipping industries will change very quickly. These changes will, in turn, have remarkable implications on the greater Canadian economy. What will emerge will be a far more efficient, safe, and cost effective transportation industry but one that produces substantially fewer employment opportunities.

This week’s public introduction of Elon Musk’s long distance electric transport truck, one that comes with a driverless option, alters a number of equations the Canadian economy is built upon. Minutes after Musk introduced the trucks, the grocery mega-chain Loblaws announced it was purchasing an initial order of twenty five vehicles, production of which begins in 2019. Loblaws expects to have its entire fleet converted to electric vehicles by 2030, twelve short years from now.

Try to imagine a world without truck drivers. According to Statistics Canada, the trucking industry accounts for about 2% of all jobs in Canada, employing nearly 375,000 workers in 2016. A convoy of driverless trucks could safely be operated by a remote driver, each vehicle sensing and matching the positioning and speed of the truck in front and behind it. The convoy could be driven to the edge of a city where a team of urban pilots or on-board safety operators wait to guide each truck to its local destination. Even if all driverless trucks required an on-board safety operator, that person would likely be charged with hours of administrative tasks because driverless vehicles are already safer than human driven vehicles by a wide margin. Phoenix AZ has already done away with laws requiring safety drivers in experimental driverless vehicles because in a test of three driverless vehicles on Phoenix’s streets, the safety operator has only had to intervene once every 8,000 miles.

In its purchase announcement, Loblaws said that replacing all of its 350 diesel tractors with electric powered tractors will cut over 94,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, roughly the equivalent of 20,000 cars annually. That itself has profound effects on the resource and energy sectors. It should be noted, electric vehicles still require some form of power to move several tonnes of matter from one place to another. It’s just a question of how that power is generated, stored, and utilized. For every job lost in the oil and gas sector, others will be gained in the design, development and deployment of clean or renewable energy technologies.

Walmart and McDonalds have also expressed interest in replacing costly diesel with cost saving electric. It won’t take long before electric and driverless trucks and vehicles are the norm. There will be a staggering effect across several levels of the economy and work-force. For entrepreneurs, new developments mean opportunities. A wave of new development is about to hit our entirely unprepared society and it’s going to hit with the impact of a fully controlled autonomous eighteen wheeler.

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