Robots outnumber human workers in this autonomous truck yard north of DenverNovember 29, 2021
The pandemic has only accelerated the trend of replacing human workers with robots in warehouse and truck yard environments, said Darrell West, an author who studies how artificial intelligence is reshaping the labor market.
“It’s happening everywhere,” West said. “In the transportation arena, worker shortages have encouraged companies to experiment because they simply can’t find drivers.”
While people still outperform robots in a variety of tasks, economists predict that Outrider and other companies around the world are leading a shift that will displace millions of workers in retail, trucking and manufacturing over the coming decades.
In Colorado, roughly 477,000 workers are at especially high risk of having their jobs automated, according to an analysis from the Bell Policy Center, a progressive think tank.
A bevy of new, higher-skill jobs will emerge in their place, according to the analysis. The world will need more workers who can program and monitor machines that filled their old roles.
Nate Aswege, vice president of Prime Robotics, a Denver-based company that builds robots to work inside of freezers and other warehouse environments, said workers shouldn’t fear the change.
Many autonomous inventions will swap repetitive, labor-intensive jobs for more stimulating work, he said. More than 1 million people currently work in warehouse and storage facility environments in the United States.
“We’re getting rid of nightmarish jobs,” Aswege said.
Outrider aims to perfect its driverless trucks at its test yard in Brighton and sell them to major retailers and logistics companies who want to shrink their labor costs or can’t find enough workers to keep up with demand.
The company’s trucks are already in real-world yards across the country. Outrider recently announced that its trucks had completed 1,000 trailer moves at a Chicago-area distribution center for Georgia Pacific, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of paper products.
Several other Fortune 500 companies are testing the autonomous trucks at their warehouses, according to Outrider. Some smaller Colorado e-commerce and retail companies are also piloting the technology.
The company hopes to see that growth continue into next year’s holiday shopping season.
For Tyler Holtz, a test site manager for Outrider, leaving over-the-road trucking was a no-brainer. Holtz made the switch in 2019, after years of working long-haul routes across the country.
Navigating “disorganized and dangerous” truck yards was the worst part of the job, he said. He now spends most days developing and overseeing test runs at the company’s Brighton yard.
“Having a robot do this is the ultimate answer,” Holtz said.
He’s not concerned that machines will take over the labor market. His job, after all, didn’t even exist until a few years ago.
Holtz, who doesn’t have a college degree, gets regular training from Outrider to keep up with the technology, which is constantly evolving. And he says pay is equal to his past career.
“It seems like there’s new autonomous companies every day,” he said. “This is the future and I want to be a part of this.”