Autonomous transport: opportunities and risks
>Autonomous transport is an extremely topical issue given the dynamic development of artificial intelligence and machine learning technology. Will transport of the future only require us to set a destination and leave the rest to unmanned vehicles? Unmanned transport, which once seemed like science fiction, seems closer than ever to becoming our everyday reality. In this article, we will take a closer look at this innovative technology, trying to understand the benefits and risks of the development of autonomous transport.
Table of contents
What is autonomous transport?
Autonomous transport, often also called unmanned transport, is a modern concept of transport that refers to technology that allows the movement of goods or people without the need for human intervention. The technologies being developed focus on concepts such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and neural networks. A system of correlated sensors that monitor and analyse the environment around the vehicle is necessary for the proper movement of an autonomous vehicle. Unmanned transport is being implemented in an increasing number of sectors, due to the financial and operational benefits.
Road transport automation levels
- Level 0. No automation. The vehicle is completely controlled by the driver.
- Level 1. Steering assistance. The vehicle uses assistance systems (e.g. driver or steering assistant) that rely on data about the road environment. The driver performs all other driving tasks.
- Level 2. Partial automation. The vehicle has one or more assistance systems that use information about the surroundings. The driver performs all other driving tasks.
- Level 3. Conditional Automation. The vehicle is equipped with an automated steering system that covers all aspects of driving. The driver intervenes when requested by the system.
- Level 4. High automation. The vehicle has an automated steering system that covers all aspects of driving, even if the driver does not respond to the system’s request.
- Level 5. Full automation. The vehicle has a fully automated steering system that works in all aspects of driving and in all road and environmental conditions.
Glossary of unmanned transport
Autopilot – a mechanism or system that takes over the role of pilot, driver or train driver, i.e. the person normally responsible for controlling a means of transport.
CAD (Connected Automated Driving) – an automated transport system that is centrally controlled by a computer algorithm, linking vehicles in traffic.
Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) – a technique that measures distance and relies on the reflection of pulses from a laser scanner.
Truck Platooning – a coordinated convoy of trucks, where the first vehicle is driven a the driver, and the other vehicles behind them are controlled automatically.
Autonomous transport of the future
One of the most promising areas for the implementation of autonomous transport are transport companies, especially in the context of road transport. The use of large-size autonomous vehicles, such as trucks and tractor units, could revolutionize the industry by minimizing the costs associated with hiring drivers. Unmanned technology is also seen as a way to reduce the risk of road accidents, as well as improve the efficiency of deliveries. At the moment, several variants for the implementation of unmanned transport are being considered, i.e.:
- creating additional traffic lanes strictly for autonomous vehicles
- connecting all cars into one coherent network, based on the transfer of information between vehicles in motion
- creating integrated convoys of trucks, led by a truck with a driver
- full automation of vehicles with the possibility of remote control when needed
Unmanned transport in numbers: predictions
According to the report of the Polish Economic Institute “Autonomous transport of the future”, the value of the autonomous vehicle industry in 2026 will reach USD 557 billion. From year to year, we are witnessing a clear increase in the number of patents in the area of autonomous vehicle technologies, which may make the real result much higher than current forecasts. Let’s take a look at how autonomous transport looks like in terms of numbers.
- PLN 51 billion savings related to road accidents and collisions with automated transport
- PLN 2.4 billion of possible annual savings for the logistics industry connected to fuel costs and salaries
- about 10 terabytes of data collected per hour by an autonomous vehicle while driving
- 58% of Poles expect autonomous vehicles to appear on Polish roads within the next 12 years
Autonomous transport from the warehouse to the client
In the current era of e-commerce domination, the optimization of delivery processes is extremely important for the functioning of every company. Autonomous transport can play a key role here. In practice, automated transport from the warehouse to the customer means that ordered goods can be delivered faster and more efficiently. Thanks to the use of autonomous trucks, the process becomes more reliable, which in turn boosts customer satisfaction and the company’s reputation. We are also not limited in this case by legal restrictions on the driver’s working time.
Autonomous transport can also raise the operational efficiency of warehouses. Autonomous vehicles can operate 24/7 without interruption, which translates into increased productivity. As a result, companies can complete more orders in less time, which has a direct impact on their profitability.
Unmanned public transport
Autonomous transport is not only the transport of goods. It is also very much relevant to the future of public transport. Autonomous buses, trams and taxis may become commonplace in our cities in the coming years. By allowing for increased frequency of trips and better accessibility of public transport, this technology has the potential to make a significant contribution to the sustainable development of our cities. In some cities of the United States, it is already possible to order an autonomous taxi, which will easily take us to the indicated place. According to the opinions of passengers, the vehicles move swiftly and safely. We are therefore witnessing a real revolution in road transport.
Benefits and drawbacks of autonomous transport
Autonomous transport has many benefits, but also challenges that need to be considered. Among the benefits are:
- Impact on improving safety: Autonomous transport can minimize human errors, which are often the main cause of road accidents.
- Increased efficiency: Autonomous vehicles can operate around the clock, which translates into greater efficiency of delivery and transport operations.
- Cost reduction: In the long term, autonomous transport can reduce the costs associated with hiring and training drivers.
Drawbacks of unmanned transport
- Safety issues: While autonomous technology has the potential to improve safety, malfunctions can lead to serious accidents.
- Job losses: The transition to autonomous transport could mean job losses for many professional drivers.
- High capital cost: Implementing autonomous technology has a high initial cost, which can be a barrier for many companies.
When we focus on autonomous transport, it is important to understand both the positive and negative aspects of this technology. That way, we will be able to effectively manage its impact on our future.
Opportunities and risks of autonomous transport
Despite its numerous benefits, autonomous transport also brings some risks. Safety is a key issue here as failures of autonomous systems can lead to serious accidents. Another problem is the issue of job losses in sectors dominated by traditional transport methods. Transportation automation also opens the door for cybercriminals to launch virtual attacks on logistics networks.
However, despite these challenges, autonomous transport is undoubtedly the future of the transport industry. With the right approach and legal regulations, autonomous transport has the potential to bring many benefits to transport companies, as well as consumers and society as a whole.
Autonomous transport : conclusions
- autonomous transport is no longer just a vision from a science fiction film, but a technology that is becoming more and more integrated into our daily lives
- dynamic progress in the area of autonomous transport is closely related to the rapid development of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies that has taken place in recent years
- sensors that scan and analyse the environment surrounding the vehicle are the basis for the functioning of autonomous transport
- development of autonomous transport will face the challenge of providing protection against potential cyberattacks.
With the development of autonomous transport technology, our society faces the challenge of adapting to the new reality. It is up to us how effectively we deal with potential threats, such as cybersecurity and changes in the labour market. One thing is certain, autonomous transport has the potential to revolutionize our daily lives, affecting many sectors of the economy.