Consumer-ready autonomous cars are a work-in-progress, but industrial variants — such as autonomous mining trucks — are already helping businesses cut fleet operation costs, while improving employee safety. However, liability and public safety concerns remain a barrier to mainstream adoption.
What is it?
Autonomous vehicles can be cars, trucks, buses, or any other vehicle class — enabling businesses to build completely autonomous fleets for everything from employee transport, to haulage and logistics.
With a high-speed, low-latency network as their foundation, autonomous vehicles can sense their immediate environment and make intelligent, split-second decisions to ensure a safe and efficient journey.
They use dozens of connected sensors to achieve an accurate map of their surroundings. AI-powered algorithms, machine learning systems, and software then processes this data for onboard actuators to turn into the right action.
Lidar (light detection and ranging) sensors are used to measure distances and analyze the road, and wheel-based ultrasonic sensors are used to detect curbs and other vehicles when parking.
What’s in for you?
For businesses, autonomous vehicles can transform and bring new levels of safety and efficiency to virtually any process that currently involves manned vehicles. In the supply chain, autonomous vehicles can help ensure fast, consistent delivery of raw materials and products, without needing to stop for breaks or manage complex shift handovers.
In high-risk locations like mining pits, autonomous vehicles can navigate tough terrain and venture into potentially dangerous areas without putting human lives at risk. And in transportation, autonomous fleets can easily operate 24 hours a day, providing consistent and reliable services to the public.
What are the trade offs?
Autonomous vehicle technology is still relatively unproven on the world’s roads. These vehicles need to make split-second decisions to protect passengers and other road users, making it extremely risky to invest heavily in early-generation technology.
While businesses stand to gain a huge amount from the use of autonomous vehicles, it’s these public and employee safety concerns that will ultimately dictate how widely they can be adopted. Without complete assurance of their safe operation everywhere, autonomous vehicles represent a huge potential legal risk to businesses — one that most companies won’t take until the technology is reasonably proven.
What’s more, opponents of autonomous vehicles cite moral dilemmas, such as the potential for job losses in the public transport space, and whether AI should have the responsibility to make potentially life-saving decisions.
How is it being used?
Many high-profile tests in real-world environments are underway worldwide. Leading vehicle manufacturers like Ford and Toyota Motor Europe are onboard, with over 1,400 self-driving vehicles now being tested by more than 80 companies in the US alone.
Approximately 500 autonomous haul trucks are already being used in the global mining industry — traversing dangerous landscapes and locations without exposing humans to risk. Because these pits are private, off-road locations, there are no concerns about how these autonomous trucks will interact with other vehicles, making it the perfect early use case for this still in-development technology.