The ITS World Conference, held in Bordeaux in early October, gathered almost everyone interested in autonomous vehicles, from cars to heavy trucks and small shuttles. For the 2015 edition, some 10,000 visitors, 3,500 conference participants and 300 exhibitors from over 100 countries came to the conference.
Autonomous vehicles, by definition, include all vehicles that can drive automatically and in a fully autonomous way, without any human intervention. So much progress has been made over the past two years… In 2014, at the PIT Conference in Toronto, even the term “autonomous truck” sounded surprising, and now, all the manufacturers have an autonomous vehicle of their own. Two years later, we could almost take part in a conference on autonomous trucks every month. But what exactly is an autonomous truck?
In fact, autonomous trucks are divided into five levels of autonomy, from full autonomy to conditional autonomy, which is closer to an aircraft’s autopilot. Trucks are taken to their cruise speed before being switched to the autonomous mode. As long as no human intervention is made or the controls are given back to the driver, the truck is in autonomous mode. This is exactly the type of system that Freightliner and Mercedes (cousins of the Daimler family) have showcased in Europe and in America over the past year.
But when will we see those vehicles on our roads? The figure below contains an estimation of autonomous vehicle deployment over the next few years and includes various manufacturers. It summarizes the various autonomy level by “I’m driving”, “We’re driving” and “It’s driving”. As indicated in the figure below, all manufacturers pretend that we are still very far from seeing a fully autonomous vehicle, with a late 2020’s estimate, even the early 2030’s
But let’s face a few facts:
- Two years ago, autonomous trucks were science fiction, and they are now on the road.
- Is it possible that, for competition purposes, the manufacturers are more advanced than they want us to believe when they say that they are decades from success?
- We are also led to believe that the technology aspect is not complex, but the social, legal and administrative aspects are… It is possible that ultra-sophisticated trucks are being created with no right to be driven on our roads?
In short, the future of autonomous vehicles seems very exciting and we must stay alert; sooner or later, we will see a vehicle without a driver on our roads. We keep ourselves posted with technological advances in the field; be sure that we will inform you with any new information.