Freight News

Driverless Trucks: Not Ready to Deliver

driverless-trucks-not-ready-to-deliver

In this two-part series, we’ll explore both sides of the autonomous vehicle movement, starting with the hurdles that need to be cleared before they take over the highways.

As a third-party logistics provider, we’re always on the lookout for ways to improve safety and efficiency, enhance service, and reduce costs. A current hot topic in this respect is driverless vehicles, a concept at the cutting edge of automotive innovation.
The US is currently leading the way in testing and development, and there have been huge advances in recent years. For example, Google has reported that in the six years they’ve been working with driverless vehicles, they’ve been involved in just 12 minor accidents and were not to blame for any of them.

Yes, driverless vehicles have the potential to deliver a number of important commercial and societal benefits, but don’t expect to actually see one on the open highway anytime soon. Why not? Below are three issues holding back the widespread use of driverless vehicles.

Lack of Legislation

In Canada, where provincial governments are responsible for motor vehicle regulations, there are plenty of questions that need to be answered. Who would be responsible when the car’s computer fails, causing an accident? How will a robot car be insured? How will licences be regulated?

A 2015 report by the Conference Board of Canada stated that the country is beginning to lag in recognizing and preparing for the large impact this digital technology will have on the economy. This appears to be the case for driverless vehicles, and will be a major stumbling block in getting them on the road in a safe, well-regulated manner.

No Drivers, No Jobs

Google’s vision for driverless vehicles is for urban populations to car share. While this is an admirable goal, think of all the dealerships, repair shops and gas stations in your neighbourhood – and the people who work there. Their existence is all tied directly to the fact that each household has at least one vehicle in its driveway. Get rid of a significant number of cars, and the jobs go too.

That would be an extremely tough sell for any politician. People may accept robots replacing drivers in some less visible industries, such as piloting mining vehicles, but trucks on the highway is a completely different ball game.

The notion that our elected officials will take on the task of selling driverless trucks to voters is, to put it mildly, far-fetched.

Hackers on the Highway

There’s a lot of technology that goes into a driverless vehicle, and two US security firms believe this may compromise their safety. Mission Secure Inc (MSi) and Perrone Robotics Inc, claim elements of new self-driving technology (cameras, radar, sonar, LiDAR and more), which were meant to make the cars safe and reliable, could end up leaving them vulnerable to hacker strikes.

“One attack scenario forces the car to accelerate, rather than brake, even though the obstacle avoidance system (using LiDAR) detects an object in front of the car. Rather than slowing down, the car hits the object … at high speed, causing damage to the car and potential threat to the life and safety of the passengers in the car under attack and in the car being struck,” according to the report available on MSi’s website.

As you can imagine, insurers are concerned about the potential risks and vulnerabilities of these technologies, and their impact on overall safety..

And if insurers are concerned, the public will be an even tougher audience to win over. It will be a long, difficult process to convince the public that driverless vehicles are safe – just one incident involving a semi- or fully-automated vehicle will deepen public skepticism and raise the political stakes even higher.

So what’s the verdict? We believe that while autonomous vehicles are getting closer to being road-ready, it’s the road that is far from ready for them. There are certainly many strong and valid arguments for driverless commercial vehicles, but a lot of work still needs to be done before they are seen on our roads.