Driverless cars, like hover boards and synthetic humans, have always been a concept that belongs in the realms of science fiction stories. Something that’s great to fantasise about, but we know in our hearts will probably never happen. But over the last few years, tech giants like Google and Tesla have been working on some pretty exciting technology. Technology that makes driverless cars and lorries a very real, and very present possibility. In fact, driverless cars have been in our midst for a while, and it’s not long until driverless lorries join them.
While we might simply refer to them as ‘driverless’, these autonomous cars and lorries are in fact powered by a complex set of systems, all working in perfect harmony to control the vehicle and remain safe while doing so. For example, the outer chassis of these vehicles are dotted with radar sensors, which monitor the position of nearby vehicles and track their movements at all time, feeding it back in real-time. In addition, lidar sensors are also installed on the outer shell of the car, and these detect the edges of the road and identify things like lane markings by bouncing pulses of light off the cars surroundings.
Driverless vehicles are also fitted with video cameras inside and out, and these detect traffic, pedestrians, road signs and other vehicles. The wheels of driverless vehicles are fitted with ultrasonic sensors that can detect the position of curbs, other vehicles and obstacles while parking. The bumpers are mounted with radar sensors, which keeps track of vehicles in front and behind the vehicle and initiates breaking and keeps safe distances – a technology that has been installed with cars with intelligent cruise control for many years. All of these things lace together in an intricate system that feeds back into a central computer. This computer takes in all of this real-time data, ties it all together and uses it to adjust speed, direction and braking. Of course, this is just the technology that’s involved at the moment – but as technology gets cheaper and more sophisticated, driverless cars and lorries will become more robust, and more common.
Of course, not having a human being at the wheel of a 2-tonne vehicles does come with risks, and it is those risks that have kept driverless vehicles from becoming commonplace just yet. Progress on driverless cars as a commercial enterprise took a big hit in early 2016, when a man was killed at the wheel of his Tesla while it was in self-drive mode. The car, which can be used in either manual or auto-pilot modes, failed to recognise a lorry that was a similar shade of blue to the sky. But the sophisticated safety features of driverless vehicles is constantly being improved, and while they aren’t all over the roads, driverless cars and lorries are more common than you think. In fact, thanks to a directive from George Osbourne early last year, driverless lorries have been undergoing trials throughout the UK for the last 12 months. So the answer is really, they are already here… sort of.
But for the freight and transport industry, the main concerns are for the safety of these vehicles and the stability of an industry that keeps thousands of people in employment. If driverless HGVs are to be used as an alternative to human drivers, this could cause a mass exodus of jobs and a fundamental restructuring of how the industry works. But since the reality is that driverless lorries won’t be taking over any time soon, we are still committed to training human drivers to take on roles within the transport industry. For more information, or to find out how you can become a HGV driver, get in touch with us today.
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