Autonomous commercial vehicles – the next step is coming closer

Ignore the naysayers who rubbish the idea – partly due to a fundamental lack of understanding about how transport really works – but autonomous vehicles will be here sooner than most people think.

Let’s be clear, we’re not talking Level 5 where the vehicle does everything, but advanced Level 4.

In this form, the vehicle does many things automatically – when it is appropriate to do so – and for commercial operators there are big advantages.

The true value of this will become clear when the Stagecoach Bus’ trial on a route across the Forth Bridge into Edinburgh starts later this year.

Using five buses, Project CAVForth is a partnership between Stagecoach, Alexander Dennis and Fusion Processing, working with Transport Scotland, Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Napier University.

The route will run from a park-and-ride site north of the Forth Bridge, into the city centre.

Meanwhile, for truck there are potential benefits too. While ‘platooning’ may not be appropriate for the UK, given the crowded nature of our roads, a higher level of autonomy than at present has the potential to increase safety – thereby reducing costs – as well as improving fuel efficiency and cutting vehicle damage.

“It’s not the fault of the naysayers that they are rubbishing CAV (Connected and Autonomous Vehicles) – but more that they’ve jumped to conclusions of a Jetsons-like future with CAVs whizzing around all over the place.”

Indeed it is on the latter point that truck and bus operators are set to make a saving. Most vehicle damage occurs in the depot, and there are no legal restrictions on fully autonomous vehicle use in depots.

ITT Hub has already seen an outline business case that delivers savings, just on the basis of reduced vehicle damage (including downtime) and the number of people required to act as vehicle shunters.

What’s holding it up? Simple; the lack of equipped vehicles.

Over the next two years, we predict that the trials already underway, both in commercial vehicles and cars, will demonstrate the benefits and flaws in autonomous vehicles. We understand that already the results are better than expected, with announcements coming soon.

It’s not the fault of the naysayers that they are rubbishing CAV (Connected and Autonomous Vehicles) – but more that they’ve jumped to conclusions of a Jetsons-like future with CAVs whizzing around all over the place.

The Jetsons cartoon series aired in 1962 and was The Flintstones polar opposite: A comical version of the future, with elaborate robotic contraptions, aliens,holograms and whimsical inventions

While this might happen in small scale in ‘closed’ environments, such as shopping areas, we’re at least 20 years away – or perhaps never – from the full vision that the naysayers present.

Away from roads we’ve been flying in CAV aircraft for years – and only expert passengers can tell the difference between auto-land and manual flying – while rail has been fully automatic in the UK since the 1969 opening of the Victoria Line. Only trade union objections mean manual intervention is necessary to start the train.

While it may be a gleam in a journalist’s eye, and makes good headlines in the non-technical mainstream press, the idea that we suddenly move straight to Level 5 for large numbers of vehicles has never been seriously touted.

We will come back to CAV trucks later in the year, as we’re aware of a few things bubbling under the surface, but for now, CAV is a serious space to be watched.

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