Autonomous trucks, taxis and buses will disrupt the transport industry in the years to come. The first driverless trials have already taken place but their full-scale deployment is still a long way ahead and their large-scale deployment will not be an easy journey. What does autonomous driving mean for transport operators? Will autonomous vehicles be a solution for everyone, everywhere? When will these vehicles become a reality?
Autonomous tech – the topic that dominates headlines and focuses the minds of all the players in the transport industry. What insights did our panellists offer? We gathered a diverse cross-section of interests, including national transport associations, research, employment, government and the UN.
There was divergence, but also much agreement on the gap between what the manufacturers want to sell and what the industry needs and the fact that the widespread adoption of technology will always be driven by innovation and cost.
So are we ready to roll autonomously? Yuwei Li, Director of the Sustainable Transport Division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe highlighted the need for harmonised technical standards and a robust legal framework. The devil is in the detail of course. He cited the need for new traffic rules and traffic signs as a basic provision, which is being driven by dedicated UN working parties.
Chris Spear, CEO of American Trucking Associations, stressed, “I don’t need 50 different laws, I just want one framework. And innovation will take care of the rest.” He also underlined ATA’s position that we are decades away from being fully autonomous and that we are really talking about “driver assist” rather than “driver displace”. He stressed the benefits of safety, emissions reduction and less congestion that will come with autonomous tech, but called for collective action to steer the right outcomes for the industry.
Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, reiterated the need for collective action and said the issue lies at the heart of the industry’s identity – and that economic viability will be key.
Dr Marika Hoedemaeker from the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, spoke about her current project, Ensemble, which is pushing the envelope in truck platooning technology. She emphasised the impact platooning will have on road infrastructure, the environment, human behaviour and traffic. While Eric Ollinger, from C-Roads, sees autonomous tech as the precursor to greater connectivity and integration – which will be the real revolution.