News of driverless lorries struck haulage workers with both mirth and a sense of unease. With thousands of haulage drivers operating in the UK, could it be the end of haulage driving as we know it or is it simply a craze?
History of the robotic transport revolution
Unmanned taxis were introduced at Heathrow airport two years ago and use specifically designed roads with accelerations of up to 25 mph. The cars haven’t taken off elsewhere in the UK, but London’s Docklands Light Railway has been operating fully computerised trains since the late 80s. In the haulage industry, manufacturers like Volvo are gearing up their robotic prototypes for a 2019 launch of automated lorries.
But is the haulage work industry ready for a robot revolution? Advocates of the robotic revolution agree that these vehicles will reduce accidents, taking human error out of the equation. It is estimated that this is the cause of 90 percent of accidents on British roads while only three percent of accidents are caused by vehicle failure. Supporters also claim that these vehicles won’t reduce haulage workers’ jobs – that the automated services are, in fact, designed to work with drivers by taking over during traffic jams or on long stretches of road, when concentration spans can lapse.
The opposition corner, however, has stressed concerns about failures and dependency on the computerised systems. They also voiced worries about the legal aspects: when the lorries go completely robotic, who will be held accountable for any accidents?
Experts have said that congestion will be eased by systems predicting alternative routes where traffic is heavy. They also cite that the lorries will slow down to a safe speed when other vehicles overtake and pull in. However, will this influence other drivers to cut in and increase reckless driving by others?
Haulage work in the UK has witnessed changes over recent decades, but nothing close to a completely automated vehicle. The cost of the new lorries will be higher than current haulage work trucks and some firms believe this won’t catch on. But Professor Will Stewart, who co-authored a Royal Academy of Engineering report, believes that in the next decade 30 per cent of trucks could be machine-operated.
Vehicles will use laser radars and 360 degree cameras that will feed through images of the road into 3D. They will be programmed to predict oncoming hazards such as cyclists and pedestrians, in addition to other cars. The future’s certainly looking interesting.