Self-driving vehicles: industrial applications rise

Self-driving vehicles have been long awaited as a crucial booster for the car industry. The technology should jump forward in 2022, but most manufacturers are still dealing with Level 3 autonomous vehicles and won’t be able to launch fully automated cars in the short term.

But technology is not the only delaying element. Driverless cars hold huge promises, as they were expected to make driving safer, more efficient, and comfortable. As a matter of fact, the many questions around safety have not been answered yet, and there is a growing call for strict regulations and clear rules to assign responsibilities in case of motoring offences.

Lately, doubts about the potential environmental impacts of automated vehicles have been raised. We expect self-driving vehicles to select the best possible itinerary to get to the desired destination and adjust speed and pace to save fuel and reduce emissions. Right, but what if users change the game?

If I ask the car to look for the cheapest (and not the nearest) parking lot, cruising time may increase. If I don’t want to pay for parking at all, I may send the car back home while I am at work and summon it after office hours. This would twice the driving – generally speaking, this may lead self-driving vehicles to cause more congestion, fuel consumption and pollution. A recent study in downtown Toronto showed this unpleasant side effect, and the debate is starting to provoke some reactions.

While driverless cars are slowed down, self-driving vehicles are experiencing better results in some other industries. Fully automated vehicles are increasingly used as load and assembly line transporters, forklifts and tuggers in warehouses and manufacturing sites. Featuring IoT technologies, cameras, motion sensors, infrared and laser radars, these vehicles can leverage complex algorithms and artificial intelligence to manage the transportation of materials and equipment with limited or no human effort.

Self-driving tractors are making their way in agriculture, contributing to a greener and more productive farming. Tractors can enable smart decisions by collecting data while they operate, which give farmers information on field and crop health and long-term yields, as well as alerts about problems such as irrigation leaks or crop discoloration.

Manufacturing, logistics, and agriculture seem to have fewer challenges than busy urban roads. Will industrial applications be the real business opportunity for self-driving vehicles?

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