There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about driverless and automated vehicles thanks to Google and its competitors all announcing either the intention to develop vehicles that are entirely autonomous, or at the very least cars that combine radar and lasers to give us some stop-gap autonomy in our vehicles, like lane assist, automatic braking and smart cruise control. However what a lot of people don’t realise, is that there’s a lot of vehicles already driving around the planet without a driver at the helm.
And I’m not talking about planes in autopilot mode.
Let’s start with perhaps the most impressive of the bunch, which are the gargantuan heavy-duty hauling trucks in Pilbara, Australia, which are currently being used to haul hundreds of tonnes of rubble and mined materials away from the Pilbara mines to a processing facility. These vehicles weigh many, many tonnes in their own right and stretch to over 16 metres long and yet they drive around without a human to be seen. While this might seem dangerous, it’s actually proving to be far safer since tired drivers could potentially lose focus and with that much weight being hauled around, one minor mistake could cause a lot of problems for a lot of people, either through damage, injury or simply having to reload the vehicle from an imperfect position.
The US army has also been trialling autonomous vehicles for certain situations, like covering troops – since small arms fire would be unable to target a driver. Theoretically this could allow for quick advances of troops in dangerous areas in future conflict zones.
Another usage of the tech is in spain, where fleets of automated trucks are being used to haul goods around the country. It’s helping to make the system of deliveries much more efficient, since the trucks can drive 24 hours a day without requiring breaks for food, or other bodily functions like sleep. It also helps with fuel economy, as the fleets of vehicles can drive very close to one another – using the front truck’s radar systems to look out for dangers on the motorway. This can save upwards of 15 per cent in fuel usage according to the BBC.
So there’s a lot of autonomous vehicles out there now already with plans for more to come. The UK is set to make driverless cars legal on the roadways next year, with plans to introduce a trial of automated taxis in 2017. There’s also the possibility that a few people in a given city could be offered the chance to try out Google’s pod cars (once they’ve been fitted with a steering wheel and pedals as a backup) and there’s already many cars available with some of the stop gap technologies discussed at the start of this piece.
The question is, are you comfortable with any of them? If so, what would you like to see in your next vehicle if you could pick one automated feature?
Image Source: Tor Linstrund