Winter whiteout conditions like this Manitoba storm last
March can bring traffic to a halt, but some experts say when driving
conditions get bad, autonomous trucks will be better, and safer, than
those with a human behind the wheel.
At last week's rollout of Tesla's electric truck, it was the battery
that got most of the attention. That and the new Tesla Roadster that
CEO Elon Musk says will be the fastest commercially produced car on
"It will be faster than that jet over there," Musk quipped, gesturing at a passing aircraft.
But according to some experts, while most of the world focused on the
jet-fast car and the fact that both car and truck run exclusively on
electricity, a far more consequential feature was buried deep in the
It will change our lives
Among its many goals, Tesla is one of the companies on the verge of
creating a vehicle that can drive itself, in traffic, on public roads,
without a human inside.
Things are moving fast, and according to experts who study the
potential fallout of driverless trucking on the economy, the imminent
arrival of autonomous commercial vehicles on Canadian roads will
entirely eclipse the impact of electric-powered trucks.
Tesla unveils its new electric truck during a
presentation in Hawthorne, Calif., but the vehicle's self-driving
capability may be more important to the industry than its battery power.
They say autonomous trucks will change our lives, and most Canadians just aren't prepared.
"The impacts of this technology will be profound," said Paul
Godsmark, chief technology officer at the Canadian Automated Vehicle
Centre of Excellence, a non-profit consultancy.
A California company called Peloton Technologies is already running trucks equipped with a semi-autonomous platooning system
that synchronizes the speed and braking of two or more trucks
travelling together. This allows the trailing trucks to safely tailgate
and increase their fuel efficiency by decreasing wind resistance.
Humans not needed
Trucks that don't need a driver at all
are on the road south of the border, too, but so far they have a
human behind the wheel in case of equipment failure. But that could
soon change, with trucks potentially driving solo on U.S. roads as early
as the end of next year, Godsmark says.
The economic pressure to get a piece of what experts say will be
a multitrillion-dollar industry — five times bigger than the
smartphone business — has led to vicious competition to get the first
fully autonomous trucks on the road.
The financial incentives will be irresistible. Between running a
vehicle without a human and running it more hours a day, going
autonomous will double efficiency in the thin-margin trucking
Once the technology is proven to work, Godsmark says, it will work on any vehicle big or small.
This month, for the first time, three
vehicles like this drove on public roads in Phoenix, Ariz., in traffic,
without a human safety driver behind the wheel. (Waymo)
Godsmark points to a watershed moment earlier this month that got
much less attention than the Tesla rollout. Google sibling Waymo set
loose several automated vehicles "in the wild," as he says, in traffic
on the public roads of Phoenix, Ariz., without a driver behind the wheel
ready to take over.
The driverless cars are simply so safe that "safety drivers" have
become useless, Godsmark says. The latest published figures, now likely
out of date, show humans need to intervene behind the wheel of an
autonomous vehicle every 8,000 kilometres.
"As the safety driver," he says, "can you imagine driving around for
two weeks and then suddenly in a two-second period you have to act,
instantly?" He says there really is no alternative to the AI computers
being entirely in charge.
Sooner rather than later
A study this month from the RAND Corporation, a California-based
think-tank, says introducing autonomous vehicles sooner rather than
later, even before self-driving trucks are perfected, could
save thousands of lives each year.
"Our work suggests that it is sensible to allow autonomous vehicles
on America's roads when they are judged to be just moderately safer than
having a person behind the wheel," said RAND's Nidhi Kalra. She says waiting longer will kill thousands of people unnecessarily.
After each crash, the entire fleet would have its software adjusted,
gradually perfecting the safety of robot vehicles. The complication is
that crashes would continue to happen.
One of the advantages of autonomous trucks is
that, unlike some people, robot vehicles won't operate when conditions
are more hazardous than they can handle. (Tony Smyth/CBC)
"Will we accept the fact that robots are killing people rather than people killing people?" Godsmark asks.
That's just one of the complications robot trucks will face.
According to Statistics Canada, truck driving provides nearly two per
cent of all Canadian jobs, more than three per cent of jobs for men.
There is still a shortage of drivers, but as autonomous trucks flood
into the market, demand for those workers will plunge.
Canada could make laws to keep autonomous trucks out, but Godsmark
says once they are operating in the U.S. it's hard to imagine lawmakers
here doing that.
"I'm in Alberta and we get most of our fruit and vegetables from
California. Can you imagine an autonomous truck comes all the way up to
the border and then at the border we insist a human drives it from
there," he said. "Is that what we want?"
But when it comes to safety, even under Canadian road conditions, he
says there is no question that robot trucks will kill fewer people.
"From what I've seen, sensors are already capable of seeing better in
snow conditions, in fog, in rain, better than a human," he said.
But their biggest safety advantage over humans, he says, is that
autonomous vehicles will be programmed to park and wait when conditions
are in danger of becoming unsafe.
"Humans have a habit of driving beyond our ability to do it safely."
Source of article click here : CBC NEWS