It seems it’s almost impossible to pick up a magazine (Trucking Industry Publications included) or tune into the news with out reading a story about the next great breakthrough in autonomous technology…. complete with opinions on when the vehicles will be commonly roaming our highways with no driver in sight. So many predicted timelines have gone by with out a mention prior to the next date being predicted, it’s like an Elon Musk Tesla prediction…no one really expects the predicted date to be delivered on.
Back to my title…I deplore the word Autonomous, hence my term driver assisted vehicles. The mass media’s pension for using the term autonomous, and too many of us in the Trucking Industry following suit, is not helping us recruit tomorrow’s drivers into todays trucking industry. In recent years this has been a tough industry to get the youth excited about, however helping portray the belief that we won’t need you in 5 years as these trucks will be driving themselves by then, isn’t exactly you’re A list recruiting material. We, as an industry, already suffering through a shortage of talent, are helping pull the trigger of the gun that is shooting us in the foot. For this reason, we need to start, on mass, promoting these vehicles for what they are…highly advanced, finely tuned, highly technological vehicles, that when teamed up with a highly skilled operator, can be the safest and most efficient trucks we have ever seen on the road! When equipped with systems such as adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation, lane departure warnings, blind spot detection, anti rollover, amongst others, have been proven to reduce accidents, and reduce the severity of the ones they can’t eliminate.
In North America, with our infrastructure the way it is, “AV’s” must rely on sensors, radars, GPS and lidar to operate their systems. At this point, these devices have proven extremely unreliable in adverse weather conditions such as snow, ice, fog and rain. Is this technology improving, yes, but even according to the manufacturers these devices are a ways off from being able to operate in full autonomous mode via sensors and GPS. In order for a vehicle to be truly autonomous, they need to be connected to an advanced infrastructure through sensors and guides. AV infrastructure is being constructed in certain jurisdictions in small area’s for testing purposes, such as Calgary and Ottawa, for the purpose of testing on public transit vehicles. If it proves feasible, in time I can see more of these types of autonomous vehicle operation centres, however even then, I still see people being present for the foreseeable future, mainly for reasons of public perception and liability. For long-distance travel, is it realistic at this point to see a coast to coast network constructed for autonomous or connected vehicle operation?? I for one, can’t see this any time soon. We can’t even get a national standard for such things as highway construction or the paint and reflective material that is used for marking signs and roads. Ever drove on an Ontario highway in the rain and tried to figure out what lane you in??? The lines literally disappear from view, and I personally have asked the Province to review the paint they use and come up with a more reflective and visible option, and in over three years even that has not been accomplished….good luck getting a standardised AV network constructed.
I don’t mean to sound negative, or dismissive when it comes to these vehicles, I just think we all need a shot of reality. Do my views mean I think we should forget about this technology? No, quite the opposite. I believe we will see further adoption in controlled environments such as mining, forestry and oil fields. I believe we need to make systems such as adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation, and others mentioned earlier, mandatory. These driver assist technologies have proven their worth. These tools, coupled with a skilled driver, improve public safety immensely. We should ensure we have regulations that allow further testing of technology devices, but also keep public safety in mind. Lets all embrace technology but be realistic at the same time. If we use the current state of advancement in our vehicles properly, we can actually use this as a recruiting device for tomorrows driver. The role of the driver is always going to be needed, the occupation is just going to change going forward. The driver of the future may be more in line with that of an airline pilot today, but still needed. This type of technology is what excites today’s youth. Lets market this properly and change the narrative!!