Are autonomous vehicles the future of transport?

Posted on 11 Oct 2018 by Maddy White

Things are shifting, things are always shifting though. Cars, buses, ships and planes are now becoming electric, autonomous and part of intelligent, connected operations.

Present transport systems are no longer part of a forward thinking future, as we move toward a smarter, greener and autonomously-led approach.

Cars have been central to the AV discussion, but now many autonomous transport forms are being developed - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Cars have been central to the AV discussion, but now many autonomous transport forms are being developed – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Connecting things together enables entire operations to be more effective, and as connectivity becomes increasingly important in all aspects of our lives; shopping, mobile phones, internet banking – what is a cheque?

It is also becoming synonymous with the future of transport.

Autonomous cars have stolen the AV limelight for the past few years, and this buzz is set to continue, as even companies like electric appliance manufacturer Dyson, is investing and getting its foot in the autonomous car door, so to speak.

The rise of AVs

But why? One of the biggest benefits of introducing any autonomous vehicle is improved safety, connected sensors should be able to scan surrounding environments and react accordingly, with of course no human error. However, there has been incidents where that hasn’t happened.

The Pods can seat up to four people, travel at 15mph and cover up to 60 miles on one charge
Aurrigo’s self-driving pods.

Tesla Motors was the first company to disclose a death involving a self-driving car roughly two years ago. The sensors of a Model S driving in autopilot mode failed to detect an 18-wheel truck crossing the motorway; subsequently, the car drove full speed into the trailer, colliding and killing the driver.

In March this year, a woman was killed by a self-driving Uber in Arizona. The autonomous vehicle failed to detect the cyclist, which is an absolutely critical feature of the technology.

There is a lot of work to be done, it needs to be proved that AVs are safer than their human counterparts. But, autonomous vehicles could enable quicker reactions to changes in traffic or surrounding environment movements, in theory enabling a safer and more seamless transport system. They can reduce risk, improve efficiency and decrease workload.

Coventry-based manufacturer Aurrigo, even played the largest role in the world’s first ever multi-connected and autonomous vehicle demonstration earlier this week, showing how vehicles can apply autonomous technology as a complete solution.

Autonomous ships

It is not just cars either. Autonomous ships that move and can communicate with each other, interpret communications from humans and then respond as if one could be developed soon.

Autonomous ships could be the future for the maritime industry - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Autonomous ships could be the future for the maritime industry – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

However at present, autonomous boats cannot listen, interpret and respond to radio signals sent by humans.

“It should be like a telephone,” Alex Raymond, PHD student at the University of Cambridge says.

“You don’t need a specific telephone to call another, and so you shouldn’t need a specific technology to interact with robots, it should be a standardised process.”

Raymond has been awarded one of 12 Industrial Fellowships from The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. Given to young research scientists and engineers to enable them to impact on industry and wider society, doing so by accelerating the development and commercialisation of new technologies.

He believes advanced autonomous ships could be the future of maritime operations, as the benefits are numerous. If for example, we can call anyone with any phone and all we need is a number, then why can this concept not be applied to autonomous boats and other vehicles?

High-speed 5G

The introduction of 5G is further propelling the case for autonomous vehicles. Earlier this month, researchers set a 5G communications speed record for AVs, this being nearly 40 times faster than current fixed line broadband speeds.

Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) managed to hit 2.867 gigabits per second in over-the-air transmissions.

This is quick enough, to send a high definition blockbuster film in less than 10 seconds.

The introduction of 5G is further propelling the cause for autonomous vehicles.
The introduction of 5G is further propelling the cause for AVs – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

The fast wireless communications technology could allow autonomous vehicles to rapidly share large quantities of important data with each other and with traffic management systems.

The development is inevitable

There is a lot of research and development surrounding autonomous vehicles, intelligent systems and integrating 5G to be undertaken.

But, the potential benefits AVs could offer to society is enormous, and the introduction of the technology into everyday life is looking to be inevitable.

Connected and autonomous systems could be the future of all transport systems, and why not? If it is safer, improves efficiency, reduces risk and decreases workload.

As more manufacturers look to invest and adapt their products and processes – whether that is cars, ship components or more general production lines – to align to more intelligently-led systems like autonomous ones, many current operations in place are set for major, and exciting, disruption.

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