The novel coronavirus, however, is likely to decimate the field. The most likely dropouts are smaller, less-capitalized startups, as well as large companies for which self-driving technology is secondary to, say, making cars. As companies switch into survival mode, noncritical expenses will be cut ruthlessly, according to Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey. “A lot of these efforts may just cease to exist without so much as a Medium post to flag it,” he said. “I anticipate we’re going to see a pretty big winnowing.”
Still, the economic case for cheaper shipping costs has improved drastically in the past month, as a huge chunk of the retail market—from groceries to gourmet dining—shifted online. “The virus has both broadened and accelerated the use case,” Silberg explained.
Burns, the former General Motors executive, figures that safe, ubiquitous self-driving vehicles are likely to cut at least half of the costs from trucking freight.