There has been a lot of interest over the past few years in driverless cars, particularly around the impact they could have on the transport and freighting industries, where there are already plans to replace some HGV drivers with automated lorries. In a world where driverless cars are usually confined to science fiction stories, the reality of them is very exciting. We may be a few years off seeing them on the roads yet, but the concept is one that has many of those in the industry concerned. But more than the risk of losing jobs, how do these driverless cars and lorries even work, and how can we be sure they are safe?
How Does Driverless Technology Work?
While it might be easy to just refer to them as ‘driverless’, automated cars and lorries are powered by a complex set of systems that all work in conjunction with each other to control the vehicle. The outer shell of the car is dotted with radar sensors, which monitor the position of nearby vehicles and track their movements. Lidar sensors are also installed on the outside of the car, and these detect the edges of the road and identify lane markings by bouncing pulses of light off the car’s surroundings.
Video cameras detect traffic lights, road signs and keep track of other vehicles, as well as looking out for pedestrians and other obstacles that might be in the path of the vehicle. The wheels are fitted with ultrasonic sensors that can detect the position of curbs and other vehicles while parking. To tie this all together, a central computer analyses all of the data from the sensors in real time and uses it to adjust steeping, speed, direction and breaking. Of course, this is just the technology involved at the moment. As the technology evolves and gets cheaper, driverless cars and lorries will become less of a proof of concept and more of a reality.
So How Safe Are They?
Of course, not having a human being at the wheel of a 2-tonne vehicle comes with risks. 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. Self-driving vehicles are equipped with an array of highly sophisticated safety features, all designed to stop this sort of thing from happening, but it became obvious that the technology wasn’t fool proof quite yet. There have also been several incidents of intentional accidents caused by other motorists, because unlike human drivers, driverless cars follow the law to a fault. To the point where police have had to pull some over on test drives for driving at 24mph in a 30 and causing traffic.
Of course, billions have already been invested in making sure that driverless vehicles can be as safe as possible. With over 100 sensors packed onto these compact cars to detect the environment, early braking and anti-collision programming, every effort is being made to ensure the safety of everyone on the road. Some of the safety features installed in driverless vehicles are so effective that they already in use, like the bumper mounted radar, which keeps track of the vehicles in front of and behind the car to avoid collisions, which is a standard feature of cars with intelligent cruise control. There is still some work to be done to refine these technologies beyond the point of failure, but the dystopian future of a fully driverless road is not far away.
More of a concern to the freight industry is the possibility that driverless lorries will be used as an alternative to human drivers. Not only will this cause a mass exodus of jobs, but it could cause upheaval to the entire industry and change the way it works. But for now, we are still training drivers to take on the 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.