The open road. On your terms.
StayGo is a service that gives truck drivers a chance to explore web-based opportunities from the open road. It does this by operating a fleet of semi-autonomous trucks with sleeper cabs that double as mobile offices, which it rents out to human drivers — so they can take online classes or pursue their own ventures while AI handles the highway driving. This helps drivers transition more gradually out of an industry which will soon depend less on human involvement, and helps the trucking industry retain and attract the drivers it needs while self-driving technology continues to be refined.
In any list of jobs that are next on automation's chopping block, trucking is a commonly cited industry. It's easy to see why: with some of the world’s richest companies pouring money into driverless cars for the consumer market1, it stands to reason that people whose profession is over 66% driving2 may soon be looking for different work.
But rumors of trucking's demise are greatly exaggerated — or at least accelerated. A closer look at the job's duties reveals a wide array of humanity-intensive tasks that aren’t so easily automated. Overseeing loading and unloading, refueling, mechanical maintenance, interacting with authorities — activities like these can occur unpredictably throughout a trucker’s day, and each contains thousands of sub-tasks and variations. This means that trucking companies will continue to rely on human experience and intuition to steward their cargo.
Plus, while driverless tech has grown in leaps and bounds so far, AI companies are still years away from fully autonomous vehicles. AI may have mastered highway driving, but it turns out that getting cars to reliably self-navigate on pedestrian-filled city streets is a different challenge entirely.
While truck drivers may not become completely obsolete in the next few years, AI still promises to change their lives and livelihoods — because their industry is already in turmoil. In 2017, the American Trucking Association reported a turnover rate of 81% and projected a shortage of 50,700 drivers for the coming year. In an industry that employs 3.5 million drivers (and 7.5 million people overall), those are worrying numbers — while competition continues to tighten its margins.3
Innovative companies are already exploring how they can partner human drivers with semiautonomous trucks to reap greater efficiencies: Uber Freight is planning a system that has local human drivers grab cargo from long-distance robot trucks at relay points, and Starsky Robotics is developing fleets of trucks that will be remotely piloted by a single driver whenever they exit the highway.4 But while these concepts might improve the quality of life for a handful of drivers in the present, none of them prepare drivers for the jobs they might have a decade from now. That's where StayGo stands out from the competition.
StayGo owns and operates a fleet of semi-autonomous sleeper cab trucks, each outfitted with a computer and high-speed internet. Shipping companies hire StayGo to run its routes just like they would hire a driver that owns his own truck. From there, StayGo rents out its truck routes to drivers interested in trying something new.
The appeal for current truck drivers is clear: For a marginal pay cut (StayGo’s fee), drivers suddenly have hours of free time in the middle of their day to mine the Internet for new opportunities. Many drivers may already have an idea for a new web-based side hustle. And for those without an immediate plan, StayGo’s onboard terminal comes installed with third-party training resources like Skillshare, Lynda, and its own proprietary entrepreneurship curriculum.
By changing the value proposition of a truck-driving career, StayGo won’t just improve the lives of current truck drivers — it will broaden the career’s appeal and expand the labor pool. There are already people with web-based careers who harbor a secret itch to experience a life on the open road. For many creative professionals, the private work environment offered by a StayGo truck’s mobile office is enough incentive to try something new. And for the rest, the promise of additional income and the chance to live as a professional tourist of North America’s beautiful landscape will be a powerful motivator. For this group, there will be an additional barrier to entry: training. But StayGo will work in close partnership with trucking companies and the American Trucking Association to develop a driving simulator, training curriculum and certification process that prepares aspirant truckers for the challenges of the open road.
The concept development process was reflective, iterative and collaborative. It began by writing out what felt like the most urgent need states for the target group, then interrogating their validity (and underlying cause) through an asking of the “Five Whys.” I repeated this process until I arrived at a set of need statements that felt both actionable and incapable of being broken down any further. From there, I used these statements as provocations in a group brainstorming exercise in which classmates sketched out their initial ideas on post-it notes. After this exercise, I sorted these short ideas into related directions, picked the most promising category and looked to turn my classmates’ short suggestions into a fuller concept. And thus, StayGo was born.
~ ~ ~
StayGo was developed as part of my master's thesis, Me, Myself & A.I.: How I Learned to Love the Machine That Took my Job. You can read my thesis book here.