Driverless Vehicles in the Supply Chain
- Published: 05 May 2017
Autonomous vehicle technology is the end-goal mode of transportation – not including teleportation, of course. With major car manufacturers (Tesla, GM, etc.) researching and developing driverless vehicles, it’s only a matter of time when these vehicles (cars and trucks alike) hit the road.
In this blog post, we will discuss the general issues of driverless vehicles and some issues specific to driverless freight trucks.
A driverless freight truck is inevitable, but there is still the question of how this driverless truck will refuel itself. As it stands everything regarding the refuelling of a vehicle is set up for a human to use. The pump, whether it dispenses gas, diesel, or electrical current, is designed to be picked up and inserted into a vehicle by a human hand. As it stands, the state of robotic hands is nascent and won’t be able to do this for a while. This may mean that while freight trucks will be driverless, they may not be humanless. A human may be necessary to refuel a freight truck until something like the wireless charging for cell phones is installed at fuel stations, or until another solution for refuelling diesel and gas is provided.
Local deliveries, however, will be entirely possible and will be the initial use of driverless freight trucks in the supply chain.
When a freight truck breaks down, it causes delays in the supply chain. These delays are often communicated and rectified by the driver. Communication of a breakdown can be performed by a driverless vehicle with no problem, but finding a solution is a little more complicated. A driver can diagnose the problem and attempt to fix it. Autonomous vehicle software can only notify you of a problem but can do nothing about it other than calling a human to come and fix the issue for it.
Legal and Political
The legal and political realm is still trying to understand how best to regulate driverless vehicles. With driverless vehicles on the road, the government wants to ensure that these vehicles are safe and that there isn’t a piece of code in the software that could, for example, unintentionally cause a car to swerve whenever it sees a garbage bag on the road. Coding is a complex patchwork of commands and systems interacting together and there are so many ways that these commands and systems could interact and cause a weird glitch. Since this is real life, a weird glitch could cost someone their life, rather than a game over screen in a video game.
With the safety of humans at stake, the government has a challenging task at hand. And whatever it decides is the standard, all of those companies that have developed autonomous vehicle technology that does not conform with the regulations will have spent millions of dollars for nothing, slowing adoption of autonomous vehicles considerably.
Driverless cars are relatively imminent; driverless freight trucks may not be so. Refuelling and maintenance may mean that freight trucks will still need a human in the cabin to ensure nothing catastrophic happens. A truck driver’s job, however, may need to be redefined when autonomous freight trucks proliferate. What this job will look like is a completely different story for a completely different week.
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