There are already several startups focused on replacing long-haul freight trucks with self-driving trucks, reports Bloomberg — and the potential is huge. (Alternate URLs here and here.) The short trip from a factory or distribution center to an interstate is usually far more complicated than the next several hundred miles. The same is true once the machine exits the interstate. One solution is for trucking companies to set up transfer stations at either end, where human drivers handle the tricky first leg of the trip and then hitch their cargo up to robot rigs for the tiresome middle portion. Another station at the exit would flip the freight back to an analog truck for delivery.

A new study out of the University of Michigan shows that such a system could replace about 90 percent of human driving in long-haul trucking.

"When we talked to truck drivers, literally every one said, 'Yeah, this part of the job can be automated,'" explained Aniruddh Mohan, a PhD candidate in engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University and a co-author of the study. "We thought they would be a bit more dubious."

There are a few big ifs. The systems would have to figure out a better way to navigate in bad weather. Regulators in a lot of states haven't cleared the way for robot rigs. The infrastructure to consider is the transfer stations where the cargo would pass from the analog to the algorithms. The study shows that if trucking companies focused on America's Sun Belt, they could easily offset 10% of human driving. Half of the country's trucking hours could go autonomously if they deployed the robots nationwide.

The article points out that as it is, the workforce of low-paid long-haul truckers "tends to turn over entirely every 12 months or so."

According to the American Trucking Associations, the industry is short about 61,000 drivers.