Autonomous vehicles – Industry Update

In recent years, the topic of autonomous driving has rapidly shifted from a concept of the distant future to very real and tangible technology. While there is still public concern about relinquishing control of a vehicle to a computer system or sharing the road with an autonomously controlled vehicle, the reality is that this technology has arrived and is here to stay.

Industry Update

 

Industry leaders are aware of the cost and risk advantages that autonomous vehicles offer, and many have already begun to embrace the technology in their business. An example of this is the recent order of 125 Tesla semi-trucks placed by UPS, the largest trucking and transportation company in the US. These trucks are already in production and will likely be on roads by the year 2020. While it has not been confirmed by Tesla, the trucks are rumored to feature the same “Autopilot” technology offered in the company’s passenger car lineup. Tesla’s Autopilotfeature utilizes an array of advanced sensors, radar, and 360-degree cameras to detect nearby cars, avoid possible collisions, and even assist with parking. This technology can ultimately take passengers from A to B without the hassle of operating a vehicle, all while theoretically increasing safety and minimizing human error.

Beyond Tesla, there are other manufacturers looking to advance the transportation industry with autonomous vehicles. Volvo, the world’s second-largest manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks, has developed an array of autonomous vehicle technology which it has already begun to test and implement with industry clients. For example, Volvo partnered with the Norwegian mining company Brønnøy Kalk AS to conduct testing in Autumn 2019 on how the use of autonomous trucks can help increase productivity and safety in mining operations. In addition, Volvo recently completed the development of Vera, an autonomously driven semi-truck which lacks a traditional cabin for human operators to occupy. Vera has already been scheduled for industry testing, with Volvo announcing a partnership with DFDS, a large Danish logistics company, to test Vera in a real-life scenario of transporting goods and products across Sweden.

The advent of autonomous vehicles also brings certain implications for the fields of accident reconstruction and forensic engineering. While the widespread adoption of autonomous driving technology will likely reduce the risk and frequency of vehicle accidents, it also introduces a new set of challenges that will require specially trained forensic experts to interpret and solve. For example, an accident involving an autonomous vehicle will likely require an expert in Autonomous Vehicle Systems to confirm if the computer system controlling the autonomous vehicle malfunctioned, as well as a Human Factors expert to identify if the autonomous vehicle made predictable driving decisions that would align with those of a human operator.

While it’s not clear as to when or to what extent society will adopt autonomous vehicles, the existence and potential use of the technology is confirmed. Stay tuned for future news and updates on this topic.