Work Sites and Military Use
One place where self-driving vehicles are already being implemented is on work sites, specifically at mines in Australia. As of October 2015, two mines in Australia were using trucks controlled remotely to move all of their iron ore. When citing advantages to these driverless trucks, the company noted that the repetitive nature of driving in loops is difficult for people, resulting in turnover, and that the trucks are more efficient because they do not need to stop for restroom or food breaks. Further, the trucks did not require training like a human driver would, saving additional work hours.
The mining company admitted that some driving jobs were lost, but said that maintenance jobs were still highly important and that the shift to autonomous vehicle technology actually created some additional highly skilled positions. The company estimates that the self-driving trucks have increased productivity by around 12 percent.
While this technology currently seems to be limited in use to Australia, one can imagine it being implemented at a number of locations around the world. Places like mines, quarries, landfills, and other work sites could begin moving towards driverless trucks, looking for higher efficiency and productivity.
To read more about the trucks being used in Australian mines, go to http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-18/rio-tinto-opens-worlds-first-automated-mine/6863814 and https://australianmining.com.au/features/mining-automation-the-be-all-and-end-all/. For an article about how automation is changing the mining industry, visit this site.
Another company has developed a “hot metal carriers.” These autonomous devices are 20-ton forklift-style vehicles designed to be used in smelters to pick up crucibles of molten metal from pot lines and carry them to casting machines. http://www.csiro.au/en/Research/D61/Areas/Robotics-and-autonomous-systems/Guardian-technologies/Driverless-vehicle
CAT is actively working to produce mining-equipment using semi-autonomous technology. The company has developed special dozers at a Wyoming mine since 2011, using what it calls its MineStar Command program. The technology is also being used in hauling products at mining locations and in various underground activities. http://www.cat.com/en_US/support/operations/technology/cat-minestar/command.html
A company called Komatsu is attempting to create a fully autonomous dump truck that does not have a cab for a human operator. The truck would be able to drive in either direction, so it would not have to turn around at work sites. This design would allow for a more balanced load distribution.
Finally, autonomous technology is also being tested in an effort to make road construction sites safer. Truck-mounted attenuators are often placed behind construction workers as a barrier between traffic that needs to merge and the workers. If these trucks could be run autonomously, using technology that mimics the truck in front of it, that would add an additional layer of protection and potentially help save lives of construction workers.
In June 2016, the Army tested technology that represents a step towards military use of autonomous vehicles for convoys. The test occurred on an interstate in Michigan and involved a four-vehicle convoy. Drivers were behind the wheel and in control, but technology was also being used that allowed the trucks to talk to each other and communicate with roadside sensors about data such as location, speed and road conditions.
Although the Army has not disclosed any timetable regarding when it hopes to implement autonomous vehicle technology, it has stated that it is interested in platooning, which is where the lead truck controls the speed and direction of the trucks following it. Platooning and other uses of driverless technology could potentially keep soldiers safer in the future.
The United Kingdom has also stated that it intends to test autonomous vehicles for military use in 2017. These trucks would have the goal of resupplying troops and would hope to cut back on injuries and loss of life due to roadside bombings and IEDs. The testing for these vehicles is anticipated to occur in the US, as the governments are partnering in this effort.