The Autonomous Optimus

19th March 2018

Once thought of as a distant fantasy, self-driving trucks and Lorries (or autonomous to give them their correct names) are moving towards being a reality, as companies look to boost productivity amid a driver shortages and as governments seek to reduce road congestion and pollution levels.

Autonomous Lorries are not yet driving themselves out of warehouses and down the motorways, but companies of all sizes including General Motors, Google and Uber are testing out the technology.

2018 is already a banner year in self-driving technological advancements seeing the first on-street test of an autonomous vehicle in Canada. Interest in the sector picked up in the closing months of 2017 after Tesla Inc. showcased their fully electric semi-trailer truck equipped with semi-autonomous technology including enhanced autopilot, automated braking and lane departure warnings.

Fortigo Freight joined Loblaws and Walmart in each pre-ordering Tesla Lorries, the £170,000 electric Lorry’s are set to be delivered in 2019 holding the promise of eventually becoming updated to be fully autonomous.
Despite his company’s investment, Fortigo president Elias Demangos isn’t holding his breath for widespread adoption in the next decade.

While the vehicles are ideally suited for motorway travel, Demangos believes drivers will still be needed for short-haul services or to pick up and deliver goods.

Estimates on how far away we are from a driverless future vary widely, but completely driverless trucks are already being used far from traffic, on remote resource properties. Suncor Energy is testing them at its oilsands operations in Alberta, while Rio Tinto is expanding their deployment at its iron ore mines in Australia. Rapid advances in technology are “revolutionising” the way large-scale mining is undertaken around the globe, said Chris Salisbury, head of the mining giant’s iron ore division.

The International Transport Forum, an intergovernmental think-tank, however, estimated that more than half of the 6.4 million driver jobs needed globally in 2030 could become redundant if driverless trucks are deployed quickly.

Automating the trucking industry will be more efficient because it will cut labour costs by 40 per cent as trucks can operate for longer hours, said Paul Godsmark, chief technology officer at the Vehicles Centre of Excellence. Godsmark said a similar transport revolution occurred a century ago when cars replaced horse and carriage.

Automation advocates argue that removing human drivers from the road will increase safety.

Currently, about 10 per cent of all crashes Police get called to involve a commercial vehicle. However, confirming the ability of self-driving vehicles across many different driving conditions could be a challenge because autonomous systems don’t respond the same way as human drivers. These vehicles react to patterns they’ve seen in the past and can’t make the choice between avoiding a small child or wild animal crossing the road, on their own.

A group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is gathering human input into the type of ethical dilemma such machines will face.

Participants are asked to decide, for instance, whether a self-driving vehicle with brake failure should continue straight killing a woman, a baby, a criminal and a cat; or swerve, resulting in the death of a girl, a pregnant woman, a dog and a baby.

While autonomous trucks will never be totally safe, such “live or die choices” are very rare.

Rapid advancements in self-driving technology will allow the system to react more quickly than the best human driver, he added.

“The expectation is if we get all of that right there will be a lot fewer crashes.”

If autonomous vehicles do prove to be safer and reduce accidents it will almost certainly reduce insurance premiums in the future but that is a little way off at the moment, however if you need commercial vehicle insurance in between now and then, call Be Wiser’s Business Insurance Team on 03339990802 or visit us at www.bewiserbusinessinsurance.co.uk