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December 5, 2016 4:00 AM, EST

Editorial: Trucking: A Hotbed for Innovation

This Editorial appears in the Dec. 5 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

A growing number of technology developers, searching for the next big industry ripe for transformation, have set their sights on trucking.

These newcomers to our industry are working to disrupt the status quo by introducing software and systems aimed at streamlining the movement of the nation’s freight.

Silicon Valley startups in recent years have begun targeting the transportation market with everything from mobile technology to self-driving vehicles.

Riding the wave of the smartphone revolution, app developers have introduced products that support automated freight marketplaces, point truck drivers toward available parking spaces and handle many other functions.

At the same time, alternative fuels have made headway as trucking and supply chain leaders continue down the path toward reduced emissions. Natural gas has carved out a niche for itself in trucking, and, recently, electric-powered vehicles also have been generating buzz.

Just last week, a pair of technology-related news developments served to highlight the trucking industry’s growing appeal to innovators.

Nikola Motor Co. showcased its bold vision for zero-emissions transportation when it unveiled its electric-powered heavy-duty truck at its Salt Lake City headquarters.

The Nikola One features a fully electric drivetrain powered by lithium batteries. A hydrogen fuel cell will supply energy to the vehicle, giving it a range of 800 to 1,200 miles, the company said.

The firm also announced plans to build a manufacturing facility at a location to be determined and revealed that truck-leasing provider Ryder System Inc. will serve as its exclusive nationwide distribution and maintenance provider.

Meanwhile, a semi-autonomous truck equipped with technology from Otto traveled on highways in Ohio, providing another look at the advancement of automated trucks.

San Francisco-based Otto, founded in January by former Google engineers, has quickly made a name for itself in the industry with its self-driving truck demonstrations, including its recent delivery of a shipment of beer in Colorado for Anheuser-Busch.

Otto was acquired in August by Uber Technologies Inc., marking the ridesharing giant’s entry into the trucking technology sector.

Last week’s self-driving truck runs in Ohio were held in conjunction with the state’s announcement of a $15 million investment in smart infrastructure designed to support the continued testing and refinement of automated vehicle technologies.

Even as the transportation industry attracts new technology developers, established players in the trucking technology sector continue to introduce new products and services of their own, building upon technologies first introduced decades ago, such as tracking and mobile communications systems and transportation management software.

As more and more developers make it their mission to improve trucking operations, the pace of change in this industry will only accelerate in the years ahead.