45-46/2016 Starting shot in Colorado
I was a little surprised, I have to admit, when I read the latest reports that Otto, a subsidiary of the transport services specialist Uber, said it had dispatched the first ever self-driving tractor and trailer on a commercial road trip in October (see page 21), covering 193 km in the US state of Colorado with cargo on board. The driver observed affairs from the lorry’s rear cabin, ready to intervene if necessary. It wasn’t.
Thus another impulse for development has come from the USA, where high-tech entities are showing what’s possible with the deployment of new technology. A “real” truck and trailer, a “real” shipment and a dose of new technology were on the public roads. Though there may also be a few players in the traditional truck industry in North America, Europe and Asia that are trying to instil a degree of independence in their vehicles, Uber subsidiary Otto has definitely won the public awareness prize this month.
Independently of the fact that the first-ever use of public roads by an autonomous truck really is something to write home about, there will surely also be some who aren’t too thrilled, not to say sceptical, concerning this development. It’s this reaction in particular that makes the establishment of a legal framework important. Because this will create a scenario that delineates when – or whether – trucks will deliver goods across the country without a driver on board. A glance at the private car segment shows that autonomous driving has become an issue there too – vide Tesla. Looking at the glitches the various players in this field have suffered recently, then one notices that many a driver at the wheel of such a vehicle wasn’t able to intervene fast enough.
If everything goes to plan in the truck segment, then enthusiasm for this innovation will grow and the public will look back nostalgically at today’s scepticism. May I just take this opportunity of reminding you of the ongoing mobile telephone (r)evolution? A mere ten years ago nobody envisaged the omni-presence and omni-capability of the little digital helpers. Cell phones have a massive influence on our lives, and today only a few of us would go without.
I’d be surprised if things were different concerning autonomous trucks in the not-so-distant future.