Self-driving or autonomous vehicles are progressing quickly past the testing phase. This technology is a world-changing innovation—a revolution well underway—that may surpass the discovery of electricity and the invention of the automobile.
What sets this revolution apart is how technologies will combine to help save lives, money, time, and resources. It could mean a near end to human-caused accidents and could single-handedly eliminate the driver shortage problem. Because 94 percent of traffic accidents are attributed to human error, autonomous vehicles will be much safer than cars driven by humans.
Phases of the Revolution
This revolution will come in five phases:
Phase 1 autonomy comes in the form of auto-braking or cruise control. Studies show vehicles equipped with brake warning systems and auto-braking reduced rear-end crashes with injuries by 40 percent.
Phase 2 considers function-specific full automation, which includes tasks such as self-parking. Many premium automobile brands already have some form of parking assist.
Phase 3 brings us to function specific/full-awareness automation. Here, vehicles are “aware” of the environment, but the driver can take back control at any moment. These vehicles anticipate and react to potential problems. This technology is already available to the consumer.
Phase 4 is environment-specific full automation, where the driver no longer needs to constantly monitor driving under certain conditions. This is best applied to highway driving where you can drive “on auto-pilot” for longer distances.
Phase 5 achieves full automation. A vehicle is able to drive in all conditions, environments, and situations without driver intervention.
While automation for the consumer market is moving forward quickly, potentially greater opportunities lie with commercial vehicles. Automation will impact driver costs, retention, and job satisfaction, as well as reduce liability and safety risks.
Trucking automation starts with adopting lower-level autonomous features such as crash avoidance technologies. Platooning, or “drafting” of several tractor-trailers together is next, traveling a mere 40 feet apart. The trailing truck still maintains full attention and steers the tractor, but the trailing vehicle brakes simultaneously with the lead vehicle, reducing drag and fuel consumption.
Companies can cut shipping costs by saving drivers’ per-mile pay. Except during servicing, trucks will be available for use 24 hours a day, enhancing carriers’ ROI. Fuel savings from more perfect driving, as well as a lack of idling at truck stops, will also result.
The effects of automation will cross into the job market. Hundreds of thousands of drivers will eventually be replaced. Because fewer crashes will occur, we will need fewer police, EMTs, ambulance drivers, trauma unit nurses and doctors, tow trucks, and repair shops. We will even need fewer insurance workers and lawyers.
With the advent of automated vehicles, shippers can expect major advantages, as well as major workforce changes, that will affect personal lives and the economy. We need to start preparing now.