Autonomous vehicle technology continues to advance steadily, with new testing facilities opening to great fanfare at the University of Michigan being a recent highlight. Around the world, plans are being put into action to test self-driving cars in many different localities, and work continues within all the major automotive manufacturers and large suppliers. The first freeway cruising and traffic jam applications are going into production in a few 2016 models, and many more are promised by 2017.
The focus from large OEMs is still on incremental improvements to existing advanced driver assistance systems, with more capable software and sensor fusion. The marketing appeal to car buyers is based on convenience and comfort with the added benefit of greater safety. Prevailing wisdom says that the personal vehicle market will continue as it has done for the past century, but there is the potential for significant change if the technology delivers and legislation is updated to allow it. This topic is discussed in the latest version of the Navigant Research Autonomous Vehicles report.
Under the Radar
What is flying a little under the radar is the work going on to launch autonomous commercial vehicles. Daimler caused a stir in May when it gave a demonstration of its Freightliner Inspiration Truck at the Hoover Dam. In July, the company announced that it expected to be able to begin testing on public roads in Germany before the end of 2015.
Another option that is an incremental step toward autonomous driving is offered by U.S. company Peloton, which offers a platooning feature that can be added to existing vehicles. Peloton’s technology connects two trucks wirelessly and allows the following truck to close the gap safely, with speed and braking controlled by the lead vehicle while the driver remains responsible for steering. The company claims that fuel savings on a long drive are approximately 4.5% for the front vehicle and 10% for the follower.
Deciding Whether to Invest
Fuel saving are the first step toward justifying new technology for fleet managers who must decide whether to invest. The ultimate potential of autonomous vehicles is to reduce or eliminate the cost of the driver, which produces the inevitable result of lost jobs, a topic beginning to stimulate some debate in the media.
New technology almost always brings societal change, but the rate of change has increased in the computer age, and a serious commitment to retraining programs needs to be made by governments as they make changes to legislation to support the emergence of autonomous driving capability and other forms of robotics. It isn’t all bad news though. The new truck pilot jobs will need new skills on top of the conventional driving ones, and so should command higher pay.
Tags: Advanced Transportation Technologies, Autonomous Vehicles, Transportation Efficiencies
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