Confessions of a self-driving truck

February 1, 2023

John Bendel


Hi there. I’m a self-driving truck, and I’m all kinds of intelligent.

Hell, I’m a lot smarter than my safety driver. He’s supposed to be watching me with his hands near the steering wheel, but he’s asleep right now.

We’re on our way to Phoenix on I-10 with a load of, I don’t know, refrigerators? Vacuum cleaners? Whatever. They don’t tell me. That stuff’s in the trailer.

It’s supposed to be a smart trailer. It can tell you where it is and if it’s empty or not – but that’s all. Big deal. Can it talk to me? No. Can it help me back in? No. What’s so smart about that? It’s a stupid trailer as far as I’m concerned.

Anyhow, there are a lot of self-driving trucks like me on I-10 these days.

Hey, look! There’s a Tesla! A real cutie! Her driver is sleeping too.

Sorry for the distraction. Where were we?

Oh yeah. I-10. Seems Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona really like self-driving trucks. I’m not sure why. I don’t think we pay more taxes than anyone else. Maybe all the sunshine has affected their judgment.

They weren’t too happy about the TuSimple self-driving truck that crashed into the highway divider in Tucson last spring. He’s a friend of mine, but kind of a hothead. He told me his safety driver pissed him off.

I don’t do stuff like that. I’m too busy trying NOT to run into things. It’s a full-time job. But I don’t have to tell you that, do I?

Of course, you have a leg up on me – not that I have legs, mind you. You human drivers have been around for a while. You’ve seen a lot of stuff. I’ve seen a lot of stuff, too, but not as much.

That’s why they keep running me around with a safety driver – to see more stuff. So when I see it again, I’ll know what it is. That’s the idea, anyhow.

But what if I don’t know what it is? Like I said, I’m smart, but I don’t always know the difference between what something looks like exactly and what something looks like sort of. There’s still a lot of wiggle room in my algorithm.

But wiggle room or not, I still have to decide whether to slam on the brakes, veer into a ditch, or just blast on through and hope it’s not some idiot disguised as a pile of leaves.

If that’s what it turns out to be, though, maybe I’ll just hit-and-run. That would be easier than trying to wake up the safety driver. What are they going to do to me anyway, throw me in jail?

Nah. They’ll just check my code for bugs. They do that all the time, and they always find some. In fact, the more stuff I see, the more bugs they find. At least they’re not smashed on my sexy grille.

But you want to know if I’m going to replace you, don’t you?

Well, I’m trying to, of course. That’s my job. But I won’t be replacing you anytime soon, trust me. Secret agents for the coffee industry will make sure it never happens.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. There’s a trooper up ahead waving me over.

Or is it a pile of leaves? LL