The first autonomous vehicles really to hit our roads in any numbers will probably not be Teslas, nor Google- or Apple-branded family cars, but big trucks. This makes perfect sense, when you think about it:
- Truck drivers have to clock up huge mileages, often over many days, and have to take breaks repeatedly to make sure they stay alert.
- Most of the driving is done on highways, where autonomous driving is the easiest, and at fairly constant speeds.
- The cost of adding the necessary sensors and systems is a smaller proportion of the cost of the vehicle.
- The impact on aesthetics, wind resistance etc of bolting camera and lidar sensors onto a truck is much smaller than on, say, a Jaguar.
And so it was that a convoy of self-driving trucks arrived in Rotterdam last month from all over Europe, and from six different manufacturers.
Trucks are also built in a more modular way than many other vehicles, so it’s easier to retrofit self-driving capabilities to existing vehicles. This is the current modus operandi of a new company called Otto, started by ex-Google employees, and with a pleasingly compact URL: http://ot.to . More information here.
I’m going to write again soon about other ways in which I think autonomous trucks may herald the likely transition into other autonomous vehicles. Watch this space.
Meanwhile, the truck drivers will soon be able to sit back and watch some old movies to remind them of the past…