Supply chains are struggling through a time of upheaval, and driving is becoming more dangerous and producing a lot of emissions. One solution can help with all of those problems: road robots. Autonomous self-driving vehicles are the next thing in clean transportation. They can make shipping more efficient, remove emissions from the transport sector that contributes significantly to global emissions and make us safer on the roads.
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How are self-driving road robots legal?
Self-driving cars have been on the roads in the test phase for a decade now. Companies like Google/Alphabet/Waymo, Tesla and Yandex have been testing vehicles on the road for a number of years. First with test drivers and then in full autonomous mode. Cities like San Francisco, CA and Ann Arbor, MI have built test tracks and operated on-road testing on city streets by gradually shifting self-driving cars from human controlled to human supervised, and eventually to fully driverless autonomous operation.
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Occasionally, one autonomous vehicle crashes and makes headlines, which speaks to our deep fear of losing control of our own transportation and safety. But self-driving cars actually don’t crash often, certainly not compared with human-driven vehicles. This clean tech and automotive journalist has been in a May Mobility self-driving shuttle in Ann Arbor that drove more carefully than the average human driver. It seamlessly took me around downtown’s busiest streets while being extra careful around pedestrians.
When are autonomous road bots coming?
Waymo, May Mobility, Aurora, Cruise, Nuro, Oxbotica and Motional are just a few of the autonomous vehicle (AV) companies continuing pilot programs in the U.S. and England. The year 2023 will lead to even more AV deployments across multiple sectors. Autonomous bots and vehicles can be used for everything from last-mile delivery robots bringing medicine or food delivery to individual addresses, to shuttle buses and personal vehicles that travel the highway and city streets.
In 2023, this massive development in the autonomous vehicle industry will lead to AV deployments across multiple markets. Mainstream automakers are quickly developing partial and full autonomous driving functions for their passenger cars at the same time. The average tech and software conference in the automotive industry now includes multiple demonstrations of self-driving cars, road sensor equipment, and autonomous software of all kinds.
San Francisco, CA and Wuhan and Chongqing Provinces in China now offer ride hail cars that are self-driving with no human driver in the front seat. What’s coming beyond self-driving taxis is vehicles of all kinds that can be put in partial or full autonomous mode for convenience, so drivers can relax on the road and avoid distracted driving, or driving assist technology that helps with road safety. Some high-end luxury vehicles such as those made by Mercedes in the EV market already offer crash-anticipation technology that tightens your seat belt, raises windows and basically braces your vehicle for an oncoming collision.
The future of autonomous road robots
Thinking a few more years down the road: Does your mail man really need to come all the way to your house, or could a truck deploy drones or road delivery bots at each neighborhood spot? Could Amazon deliver packages by drone all over the country, expanding from their test markets already under operation?
Trucking is another area where massive emissions can be avoided and safety improved. It’s nothing to see a jackknifed semi on the road today, but that might soon be a thing of the past. Logistics lanes with autonomous EV semi trucks could improve highway safety while smoothing logistics supply lines by making trucking more predictable and efficient.
Autonomous trucks already ship goods for UPS, FedEx, Wayfair, Coca-Cola and the Girl Scouts of North Texas. Batteries are still improving, but the charging infrastructure for electric and autonomous semi trucks is being built as we speak. Several startups are scaling offerings that include flexible charging stations at truck stops across the U.S. Autonomous vehicles are perfectly primed as programmable route vehicles to take advantage of the growing network of EV chargers along the highway system.
Time will tell the full impact of autonomous road robots, but we expect them to shift how we transport goods and humans and run our roads for generations to come. And that change is coming gradually, but soon.
Lead image via Pexels