This article was originally published on Navman Wireless Australia.
Driverless or autonomous vehicles are no longer the stuff of science fiction. Many of today’s cars are already packed with semi-autonomous features – cruise control, assisted braking and parking, lane departure and blind-spot warnings – Google’swhile self-driving car project continues to generate a lot of media attention.
In reality there are still plenty of regulatory, social and other hurdles to be cleared before we see large numbers of driverless cars on our roads. Yet the concept is hugely attractive for industries that operate large and complex fleets of vehicles. Removing human input from the operation of those fleets has the potential to greatly improve safety while increasing efficiency. So which industries have the most to gain?
Autonomous vehicles are hugely attractive for the big mining companies. They reduce the dangers associated with human error, which is often caused by fatigue, and could mean people are completely removed from high-risk environments. improvesThis driver safety and reduces corporate risk, increases operational efficiency and makes costs more predictable. Mining companies have an advantage over many other industries in terms of adopting driverless vehicles because so much of their driving takes place on private roads. Fitted with radar, wireless, and sensory equipment as well as mapping technology, major industry players like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are already trialling driverless trucks to haul millions of tonnes in Pilbara, Western Australia. These vehicles are aware of obstacles blocking their path and can respond accordingly to reduce the likelihood of an impact. There are huge savings to be made if autonomous vehicles can lower the number of incidents on mining sites.
Human behaviour is a contributing factor in more than 90 per cent of road accidents, according to research by the World Road Association. Common causes include fatigue, lack of attention, speeding and driving under the influence. Driverless vehicles would significantly reduce the risk of road accidents by communicating with sensors built into the road network and other connected vehicles. Managing driver fatigue is a major problem for haulage operators so there’s great appeal in reducing the potential for human error. Driverless vehicles would also improve operational efficiency with centralised systems calculating the most efficient routes and modifying in real time to avoid hazards and congestion. In fleet companies where drivers are mainly responsible for driving from A to B on a daily basis – or in urban spaces such as city centres and university campuses where there is little variation in driving routes and timings – driverless vehicles would be a boon to safety and efficiency.
In conflict zones and war-torn regions, the use of driverless vehicles reduces risk for military personnel from explosive devices as well as biological, chemical and radiological hazards. During testing, vehicles were able to negotiate obstacles, move across foreign terrain and combat zones, and manage a myriad of real-world situations. In May 2014, the US Army led a convoy of seven different tactical vehicles that were driven completely unmanned at speeds exceeding 40 miles per hour. These vehicles could be used for humanitarian relief efforts or for resupplying troops. This brings us a step closer to fully autonomous warfare in the near future.
As more vehicles undergo rigorous testing before they are deemed suitable for commercial use, the greatest challenge will be making a safe transition from analogue to digital. Driverless vehicles will need huge digital infrastructure in place, including large-scale networks of sensors and other technologies, if they are to be successful.
Yet despite these challenges, the potential safety benefits of driverless vehicles are so great that industry will continue to pour huge amounts of research and development funding into making it work.
In the meantime, GPS fleet management can help to keep your drivers safe! Speak to one of our experts by clicking here.