A driverless future is coming – but it won’t start with self-driving cars – Business Insider

Posted: Monday, September 26, 2016


otto
Otto’s self-driving
truck.

Otto

Self-driving cars are coming.

Tesla is aiming to have a fully driverless car ready by 2018, and
Uber recently kicked off a pilot in Pittsburgh where select users
can hail a ride in a self-driving car. And many
other companies have plans to roll out some form of self-driving
cars by 2020. 

But chances are, you’re more likely to see a driverless truck in
practice before a self-driving car.

There’s two reasons for this, the first being the tech itself.

It’s a lot easier to build autonomous tech for highway driving
than city maneuvering. On highways, there are fewer obstacles for
the vehicles to worry about. Cities are a mess of
pedestrians, cars, potholes, traffic cones — you get the point.
All of those obstacles mean driverless cars have a lot to keep
track of, and it can be easy to miss something.

We’ve already seen real world examples of this playing out.
Uber’s self-driving cars still need a safety driver behind the
wheel because urban driving is so difficult. There were actually
several times the driver had to take over
when we got a ride in one. 


Tesla autopilot
A depiction of Tesla’s
Autopilot in use on a highway,

Tesla

But there are already vehicles on the road today that can
handle highway driving with relative ease. Tesla’s Autopilot
comes with the ability to merge on and off highways, detect when
another car is entering your lane, and drive in highway
traffic. 

It’s not just Tesla, either. Most cars today come with
semi-autonomous features for highway driving, like the Volvo
XC90, which comes with Cruise Control and Pilot Assist so the car
can drive itself even on traffic-heavy highways.

That’s not to say vehicles are completely able to tackle highway
driving on their own yet. Otto, a self-driving truck startup that
Uber bought for an estimated $680 million, still needs someone
behind the wheel in case something happens.


Otto driverless truck
YouTube/Otto

But Business Insider’s Biz Carson got a ride in an Otto truck and
wrote that it handled the highway
so well it “for the most part, felt normal — relaxing, even.”
There were no chimes indicating the need for a driver to
take over during her ride as was the case with Uber’s self-driving cars
— but again, it’s much easier to handle an open highway than a
chaotic city.

But it’s not just the tech itself — it also makes more economic
sense to pursue driverless trucks.

The Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings put together
a report noting that delivery vehicles and
trucks are poised to see “quick adoption of autonomous vehicles”
because e-commerce is booming. People are increasingly likely to
order food and goods online with the promise of same-day
delivery, which has served as a boon to the trucking industry.

Now if you consider that large trucks often cost over $150,000,
then the introduction of autonomous tech, like cameras and
sensors, begins to seem “quite cost effective compared to
the case with automobiles, where the additional expense is
based on a lower overall cost,” the report notes.

So as more money is getting poured into delivery systems, the
prospect of investing in autonomous tech for trucks now
— with the idea that it will cut costs later — becomes a more
attractive prospect.


daimler
Daimler’s autonomous
truck.

Daimler

We’re already seeing a movement toward driverless truck adoption.
In addition to Otto, Daimler is working to get its
driverless truck on the road by 2020. The truck made history by driving on an open
highway with traffic October 2015, marking the first time a
big-rig drove semi-autonomously on a highway.

And it’s possible other companies investing heavily in delivery
networks will look to driverless trucks in the future as
well. 

Deutsche Bank released a report in June predicting that
Amazon will have a shipping operation that consists of
self-driving trucks and drones. Considering Amazon has invested heavily in growing
its transportation network over the last few years, that doesn’t
seem like a stretch.

There’s an immense focus on self-driving cars right now, and with
good reason. Driverless cars can improve congestion and
traffic while decreasing the number of accidents. But having so
many hurdles to overcome still, it seems most likely we will see
a driverless truck first.

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