A Case Study of Autonomous Trucks

Let's Talk Science

How does this align with my curriculum?

In this case study, teachers and students will study how artificial intelligence is affecting the trucking industry as a way to explore how technology and society are related.

Objectives

After completing these activities, students should:

  • better understand the importance of the trucking industry and how autonomous vehicle technology can affect different people;
  • develop their empathy skills by by considering different perspectives of a problem;
  • consider how artificial intelligence automation might affect their own career development plans. 

Setting the Stage

Artificial Intelligence technologies are rapidly evolving.The world of transportation is no exception. As self-driving vehicles are improving and regulations allow their use, we begin to see more and more of them on the road.

This case study will focus specifically on the world of land cargo transportation, commonly known as ‘trucking’. This industry is an essential part of any supply chain and it relies heavily on human drivers. In this scenario students will consider questions such as:

  • How will the industry change with the adoption of more autonomous trucks? 
  • What will the impact be on the different people involved with the industry?
  • How can humans adapt to minimize the downsides of this inevitable technological revolution?

Duration

This project as a whole represents a minimum of 2 hours class time, plus additional time for activity 4.

Materials & Preparation

  • Computers or tablets with internet access (for students)
  • How important is trucking for society? [Google Slides] [PDF] - Teachers can display directly, or download the slidedeck for offline use
  • Issues & Stakeholders Reproducible Template [Google doc] [PDF] (1 per pair of students) - provide as a paper or e-copy
    OR [Google Slides] - Teachers must first copy the slides on their own drive to use with students
  • Job of the Future Reproducible [Google doc] [PDF] (1 per student) - provide as a paper or e-copy
  • OR Technology and Future Careers Exit Slip reproducible [Google doc] [PDF]

What To Do

Activity 1 : First Impressions (20 min.)

  • As an introduction to this case study, students will examine images related to different types of trucks to activate prior knowledge about how products are transported. They will also have the opportunity to reflect on the importance of the trucking industry.
  • Teachers can use the Google slide deck [Google Slides] to present this topic to the class. This can be done in-person or online with the whole classroom.

Activity 2: Understanding Autonomous Vehicle Technology (10 min.)

  • In order to better understand how autonomous vehicles work, students could watch the video below. Alternatively, students could be asked to read the article AI and Personal Vehicles.

Autonomous car / self-driving car - How it works! (2018) by Thomas Schwenke (3:11 min.).
  • Teachers can ask the classroom to summarize how autonomous cars work. An important point for students to recognize is that autonomous vehicles use different types of sensors to get data about their surrounding environment.

Activity 3: Autonomous trucks - Issues and Stakeholders (60 minutes)

  • In this activity, students will think about the different issues related to the automation of the trucking industry and think about the different people affected by these issues.
  • Teachers can show students the exemplar of a completed activity sheet on the topic of Cleaning Up Nuclear Waste After Decommissioning to demonstrate what is expected from this activity: Issues & Stakeholders Student Sample.
  • As a way to initiate reflection, teachers can ask students to watch and answer questions in the The Future of Work: A VICE News Special Report - A Case Study of Autonomous Trucks Edpuzzle video (if preferred, can simply watch the first 5 minutes of the same video The Future of Work: A VICE News Special Report) to learn about the different perspectives of a trucker and an entrepreneur.
  • Students should also watch the Faces of trucking video to see the various jobs involved in the industry.
  • To complete this activity, teachers can:
    • Scaffold student discussion to identify the key issues. Teachers could use guiding questions such as:
      • How would you feel about being in a self-driving vehicle? How would you feel if you knew that trucks on the highway had no drivers?
      • Once the technology is ready, will truck drivers no longer be needed?
      • If we already have vehicles that can drive themselves, why are they not all on the road already?
      • Can adding technology to a vehicle create new needs (e.g., maintenance, costs)?
      • What advantages are there to autonomous trucks?
      • In what situations do autonomous trucks make sense? In what situations would a human driver be better?
      • What happens if technology fails and there is an accident?
    • Students in upper grades could do their own research. This could include watching the entire documentary video above.
    • Teachers could define the key issues as a class, then let groups of students focus on one issue and share with the whole class afterwards (jigsaw strategy).
    • Asynchronous: students could collaborate online using the Issues & Stakeholder Google Slide deck. Note: teachers must first make a copy to share with students.
  • The main issues that students should become aware of include:
    • Safety
    • Job disruption (loss, change, retraining, etc.). 
    • Infrastructure (new types of roads, maintenance, etc.)
    • New technologies (limitations, software upgrades, bugs, etc.)
    • Law (insurance, liability, etc.)
    • Unpredictable situations (weather, accidents, etc.)

****For the 4th activity, teachers can choose from two pathways. Activity 4a offers a STEM-oriented activity, whereas 4b focuses more on the social aspects of the topic.

Activity 4a: You’re the engineer! (10 min. plus independent or small group project work time)

In this design activity, student groups will be asked to look at the problem from a civil engineering perspective and elaborate a solution for a highway of the future.

The challenge 

How could you design a highway that will accomodate autonomous trucks and regular vehicles? 

Design Criteria 

  • The highway must be safe for autonomous trucks and regular cars.
  • The system needs to offer a solution to a minimum of three stakeholder-specific issues identified in Activity 3, including safety.

Prototype

  • Designs can be drawn by hand or using digital tools. 
  • A scale model using toy cars and trucks could be built.
  • A model could be created and coded using a coding platform such as Scratch.
  • A physical prototype can be built using a simple robot such as the ozobot and color-coding their highway.

Assessment

What student work could look like:

 

Example 1:

A student in junior grades builds a physical scale model which includes:

Example 2:

A student in middle school programs a game in Scratch which includes:

  • Realistic roads and barriers (infrastructure)
  • Warning signs (safety, law, government)
  • Coding that allows the truck to safely get around cars on a highway (safety, new technology
  • Students may get inspired or remix Scratch car driving/racing projects such as:

Example 3:

A small group of students in high school builds and demonstrates an autonomous vehicle

High School Autonomous Vehicle Competition by the Argonne National Laboratory

Young engineers put future of driving on display by Tribune Star 

  • As they demonstrate their vehicle, they discuss the challenges they encountered in regards to safety, infrastructure and technology

Activity 4b: Working together on Societal Issues (20 min. plus independent or small group project work time)

In this activity, students will be briefly introduced in the democratic process step of a senate committee. Then, in a role-playing activity, student groups will need to prepare a 5 min presentation using one of the stakeholders’ perspective.

  • First, teachers should present the video below that briefly introduces the process of creating new laws in Canada
     
    How does a bill become law? (2019) by SenCanada (2:13 min.)
  • Then, teachers will present the scenario of the government looking into a bill authorizing autonomous trucks on Canadian highways. As seen in the video, the government is hypothetically in the committee stage. At this stage, experts or representatives, called witnesses (not mentioned in the video), can be called in to voice their concerns or share information. This process ensures that the committee has all the necessary information to take an informed and fair decision.
  • Assign each of the different stakeholders identified in Activity 3 to a small group of students. More than one group can do the same stakeholder if necessary.
  • Using the research done during Activity 3, student groups will prepare a 5 minute presentation to make sure their issues are addressed and considered in the bill at hand.
  • Optional or alternative : students could write up amendments they could suggest to a bill that simply authorizes trucks on the highway.

Assessment

What student work could look like:

 

Student group represents truck drivers:

Thank you for allowing us to come here and speak to you about being a truck driver and our concerns about the future of autonomous trucks. We have all been truck drivers for most of our lives. Our families depend on the good income we make as truck drivers. I have enjoyed being able to travel across Canada and see so many amazing places. I began truck driving right out of high school and it has been my only career. If trucks like mine became autonomous, I would be out of a job. I don’t have a college or university degree, so I am not sure what I would do. Would I have to go back to school? What will the government do to support all of the people like me who will be out of jobs?

Student group represents truck company owner:
Thank you for allowing us to come here and speak to you about being an entrepreneur in the trucking industry. We are very happy that the government is making sure companies such as Johnson & Daughters will have the opportunity to put autonomous trucks on the road. This technology is very much needed as it will allow us to relieve some stress brought by the current truck driver shortage. It will also allow us to offer better working conditions for our drivers as they will be able to let the machines do some of the hard work! Our company is also investing in the training of our current staff to make sure we can maintain the trucks appropriately and ensure those people have jobs in the future. We even plan to create more jobs as our companies grows with the help of more efficient autonomous truck routes. 

Activity 5: Your career of the Future (20 minutes)

In this activity, students are asked to take what they’ve learned from previous activities and apply it to their own career plan. Students could choose to stay in the autonomous driving domain, but preferably address their own passions and interests through this exploration.

  • In order to do so, students are asked to complete Job of the Future reproducible [Google doc] [PDF] by first choosing a career or work area they are interested in and think what it could be like by the time they would be hired for it.
  • As a quicker activity alternative, teachers can use the Technology and Future Careers Exit Slip reproducible [Google doc] [PDF].

Details

Downloads

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Learn More

The surprising benefits of self-driving trucks (2020)
This page by the World Economic Forum presents the advantages of having more autonomous trucks on the roads.

Why Don’t We Have Self-Driving Cars Yet? (2019)
This video (12:30 min.) by CNBC looks into the current state of autonomous vehicles technology and the issues that hinder progress.

What Happens When Self-Driving Cars Kill People? (2019)
This article by Forbes looks into the liability aspect of accidents involving autonomous vehicles.

Connected Vehicle: The Future of Transportation (2016)
This video (7:29 min.) presents the different technology systems that can be used in autonomous vehicles.

The Pros and Cons of Self-Driving Cars (2020)
This video by GCFLearnFree.org presents the main advantages and disadvantages of autonomous vehicles.

Learn More

The surprising benefits of self-driving trucks (2020)
This page by the World Economic Forum presents the advantages of having more autonomous trucks on the roads.

Why Don’t We Have Self-Driving Cars Yet? (2019)
This video (12:30 min.) by CNBC looks into the current state of autonomous vehicles technology and the issues that hinder progress.

What Happens When Self-Driving Cars Kill People? (2019)
This article by Forbes looks into the liability aspect of accidents involving autonomous vehicles.

Connected Vehicle: The Future of Transportation (2016)
This video (7:29 min.) presents the different technology systems that can be used in autonomous vehicles.

The Pros and Cons of Self-Driving Cars (2020)
This video by GCFLearnFree.org presents the main advantages and disadvantages of autonomous vehicles.