When you see an 18-wheeler cruising beside you on the highway, there’s a decent chance the trailer isn’t carrying any goods.
Because of inefficient route and cargo planning, trucks might only make one half of a trip full, burning huge amounts of gas to travel hundreds of miles back with empty trailers. It’s also an inefficient use of time for truckers, who are losing pay when they’re not delivering. Most people would be “surprised, and even angry” to discover the real data behind the logistics of the truck shipping industry, says Jennifer Wong, head of sustainability at Convoy, a tech company aiming to provide a “more modern approach to freight.” The mobile app created by the Seattle-based startup, which won the 2020 World Changing Ideas award in the Transportation category, can “automate a lot of those processes to make things a lot smoother and safer for both our carriers and our customers,” Wong says.
On episode four of our World Changing Ideas podcast, I spoke to Wong about the app’s Automated Reloads algorithm, which uses machine learning to reduce the “empty miles” driven by trucks. It tries to produce the best possible combination of shipments for truckers, so they don’t have to spend time configuring new deliveries and avoiding “all of the hassle that comes along with the job.” And that can help small trucking companies save money, by using their small fleets efficiently.
All the while, this reduces the toll on the environment. Transportation is responsible for 28% of carbon emissions, a figure that’s due to double by 2040. To date, Convoy, which was founded by former Amazon employee Dan Lewis, says it has saved almost 3 million pounds of carbon emissions. According to Wong, if the whole trucking industry could reduce emissions at the same 45% rate, it would have saved 32 million pounds. The scale of carbon reduction in the industry is clear because of the ubiquity of trucks. “Almost everything around you,” she says, “even in your room today, probably arrived on a truck.”
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