The future of trucking will rely on autonomous brokerages dispatching freight to autonomous trucks without human involvement, according to a pair of logistics startups that announced today they had completed a test of that system.
San Francisco-based industrial automation provider Starsky Robotics provided the self-driving truck, while the autonomous freight broker was New York-based Loadsmart, a digital freight brokerage backed by venture funding from the investment arm of shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk and other VC firms.
According to the partners, the announcement marks the first time an autonomous truck company and a digital broker have collaborated to price, book, and load a shipment without any people in the loop. When scaled up to widespread use, that pattern can help solve predicted shortages of truck drivers by automating the traditional freight flow, they said.
While the partners' ambitious plan took a step forward today, they have a long way to go before bringing their bundle of automated brokerage and trucking to a wider audience. The digital freight matching (DFM) sector is crowded with well-funded startups fighting for market share, with additional entries frequently joining the throng. Yesterday, a firm called Flock Freight unveiled its rebranded algorithmic freight carpooling approach, and argued it would have a seat at the table alongside the other app-based tools.
Likewise, providers of autonomous trucks are still in the early stages of that industry, taking test runs to trial the technology while working to clear legal and regulatory hurdles. Most recently, self-driving trucking firm Kodiak Robotics said Tuesday it had opened a testing and freight operations office in Dallas and started making deliveries.
To make their transaction happen, Loadsmart connected its network of customers with Starsky's fleet of regular and self-driving trucks by integrating two application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow computers to automatically share information—Loadsmart's Automated Dispatch API and Starsky's Hutch API.
The news also marked the launch of Starsky's Hutch API, which allows users to autonomously dispatch autonomous loads on a regular basis, Starsky Robotics CEO and Founder Stefan Seltz-Axmacher said in a release. "Today, for the first time ever, the advances that seem obvious for the ride-sharing services are coming to trucking," Seltz-Axmacher said. "It's not uncommon for a traditional trucking company to have 5 full-time employees involved in dispatching each truck for each load. By integrating e-brokers like Loadsmart, we are eliminating all back office human intervention and making the shipment process seamless, while focusing on ensuring the safety of driverless trucks."
In the long term, the partners plan to bring that capability to a wider audience by linking their automated processes to shippers' transportation management system (TMS) software. "Our ability to connect shipper demand with autonomous capacity will turn the industry on its head—knowing when and where a truck is available and where it wants to go will automatically trigger our TMS integration to price and book the best load for that specific truck," Hunter Yaw, vice president of product at Loadsmart, said in a release. "We are moving from a load-to-truck world, to a truck-to-load one. Carriers will benefit from this feature by keeping their trucks full days in advance."