In the warehouse environment, self-driving vehicles are already employed. In obscure areas, such as the minefields of Australia, you might encounter two-ton autonomous vehicles on the worksite. Of course though, these are controlled environments without the many elements of surprise found in the real world of road transportation and logistics.
Recently, the government approved driverless car trials, moving the UK closer to full use of autonomous vehicles and meaning we could see driverless vans for sale sooner rather than later. Now that self-driving vehicles are approaching the mainstream, businesses will be watching to see how these self-driving machines will be accepted on public roads, while traffic experts and insurance companies will be watching to see if autonomous vehicles really will make driving safer.
The DHL Report notes that, in the near future, driver-assistance functions will blanket the new commercial vehicle market. Assisted driving will blend human control with the precision controls of a system run by radar, cameras, computer software, electronic sensors and other tools. Already available in the car market, these devices would keep the lane, watch the speed, control the distance between vehicles, and react more quickly to safety threats.
In the estimation of the DHL report, vehicle autonomy will lead to fully-independent truck convoys on the nation's motorways. It is DHL's assertion that the changes will be beneficial in terms of lowered fuel use and reduced emissions. This will help meet government's goals to reduce transportation's environmental impact. For companies, the autonomous vehicles can make logistics easier through 24/7 operation. There should be less time lost to road safety issues and less fuel lost to traffic delays.
While the inventors struggle to bring these products to market, it remains to be seen how the public will accept the changes. Drivers can anticipate a regulatory snafu as the government wrestles with safety issues, especially if human and autonomous drivers are to share the road. Businesses will encounter a whole new set of liability issues. Yet these barriers are unlikely to last for very long as progress seems to be pushing faster than the status quo can push back.