For all the hype about the platoon of trucks or driverless convoys headed onto the roads by the time this year ends, the technology is something that could have been tested at any time over the last couple of years.
The reality about autonomous vehicles – with the truck being the most commercially and topically significant, but also passenger cars, buses, and vans – is that for quite some time now they have had the ability to get around on their own through using their brains.
In fact, many seemingly ordinary family sedans have so much technology within them now that they can practically drive themselves. For example, Satnavs, are accurate to such a degree now that they provide the most accurate placement on the road for a vehicle.
Lane-sensing radar is able to steer cars effectively with very little input needed from the driver. There is also adaptive cruise control that can slow down or speed up a car on busy roads or in traffic jams without any manual intervention from the driver. If desired, a vehicle can also be made so that it never goes over the speed limit. A vehicle can give warnings of any obstructions up ahead meaning that cars don’t ever have to get into a collision with anything unless a driver is determined to get into a collision with them. Cars have better night vision than humans do. All that is really necessary for creating a completely autonomous vehicle is to just connect all of these technological dots.
Well, not quite. Another important thing that is also required is consumer confidence, but over time, this should occur as demonstrations like the upcoming autonomous truck roadshow help to provide nervous road users with assurance. Right now, people still appear to think that autonomous vehicles have some intrinsic inferiority in their performance and judgments compared to human drivers. However, our experience might suggest that this might be misplaced faith in human drivers. In any case, it would only be true of thoughtful, alert and sober drivers.
Massive disruption, massive benefits, and massive change are all promised by autonomous technology. There is an obvious threat to the livelihoods of taxi drivers, bus drivers, and truck drivers. Just as steam train footmen and electric mass-transportation system drivers, they might become a very right sight within a few decades, and only seen at vintage car rallies.
However, there will also be a corresponding reduction in the cost to transport freight, as the technological investments in producing real-time logistical systems and autonomous vehicles become sunk, so that any increased truck costs will most likely be outweighed by the cost to employ professional drivers (who need breaks as well). You can look here to read all about driverless lorries.
If there isn’t any conventional driving license needed to drive an anonymous vehicle from point A to point B, then there will be an increase in how many people are out on the road; for example, those who are currently too infirm or young to drive will be able to enjoy the freedom of having secure personal transportation. That is a big benefit, but also is one that could possibly result in massive congestion unless a system was setup to charge for use of the roads in such a way that it discouraged using busy routes during peak times.
There would also be cultural changes; no more need for having a designated driver after a night of drinking, no more parking or speeding fines (if new these new vehicles get programmed to obey the law at all times), not as many truck stops for tired drivers. No more pedestrians killed due to a driver texting or watching a movie, and no more racers.
If these new vehicles are powered by electricity, then there will be a second revolution added – no more gas pumps, or having to repair and service complex mechanical machines, along with much cleaner air and quieter towns. There will have to be reforms made to adjust for the substantial revenues that are derived by governments from all of the diverse ways that transportation, drivers, and vehicles are taxed. Oil companies would also need to do some major rethinking. New names such as Apple, Tesla, and Google would be joining Toyota, VW, and Ford in the automotive business.
Nearly two centuries ago, when the first railroad trains were introduced, it was believed that a woman’s uterus would fly out of her body when travelling at such an unnatural speed. Any car one hundred years ago was basically only a status symbol of the wealthy and not usually a very comfortable or reliable one. Our world will once again be revolutionized in a few years by universal personal transportation with a comprehensive road pricing system and fueled by the power of green energy. We won’t have to fear the driverless truck any longer, except when watching the occasional classic horror film.