By the time the investment insurance infrastructure and regulatory frameworks catch up to autonomous driving technology, long-distance haulage and transport is bound to look drastically different.
Taxi-hailing innovator Uber seems most likely not only to take the technology commercial, but also to profit from it. (Not all who innovate are rewarded for it.) As traditional taxi service is uprooted in the United States and then globally, so too is the vehicle reliant haulage industry set for upheaval.
Autonomous driving: driverless in stages
The Institute of Mechanical Engineers quite reasonably foresees that automation will come in stages, noting that commercial operators such as Tesla are so far only making use of assisted driving and partial autonomy technologies.
By 2018, vehicles from manufacturers including Volvo and Mercedes (two European manufacturers perhaps less known for producing lorries) could be following the road automatically.
The expectation is that the early high-to-fully autonomous offerings will be largely confined to dedicated fleets and ride services, Uber being a case in point. As such, haulage should see the same levels of innovation as ride services, partly because there is sufficient investment infrastructure directed towards the ownership or leasing of large fleets designed to haul heavy loads across motorways.
Monika Wagener of Ford’s Research and Advanced Engineering division is comfortable that we will notice the change on our roads in the very near future, but it will be restricted to well-defined areas and favourable weather conditions. Google’s cars, for instance, rack up ten thousand autonomous miles a week, but not in snow and ice; the cars’ sensors simply cannot cope. As such, interstate transport industries will be slower than ride services to take up the technology vanguard while navigation in snow and heavy precipitation develops.
Mercedes is producing prototypes that can automatically overtake slow-moving traffic; it is easier for the software and sensors to tackle constant-speed motorways than city roads. Though it could be decades before the average commuter jumps blithely into an automobile only to pass the time browsing their tablet device, self-driving vehicles are indeed on their way, and things will start changing with taxis and trucks.
A matter of time
Eventually even the snow won’t stop them. Ms Wagener tells TechRadar that ‘we managed to make driving autonomously in snow possible by doing high-resolution 3D mapping. That means the vehicle knows the lane markings and other details even if they are covered in snow.’
It’s bizarre but realistic to think about how banal these advances will seem to the generations who wouldn’t dream of getting behind the wheel if they are responsible for turning it.
For more information on the impact of autonomous driving on business contact Jon Miller – a member of Menzies Transport and Logistics sector team.