Companies like Uber and Waymo are surging ahead with autonomous vehicle technology. We look at how transport will change for the better.
Published: Friday, November 10th 2017
In just a few years, innovation in technology has helped us to get around and get connected faster and easier than we could imagine. We’ve got self-driving cars and electric vehicles. We have developed apps and mechanisms for sharing transport and ideas and information; we’ve got in-vehicle data connectivity, etc.Ride-hailing services, for instance, have made urban travelling more convenient in many cities all over the world.The modern world has been built around certain transportation systems – and right now it’s all on the verge of momentous revolution. Intelligent transportation systems aim to make driving, as well as traffic management, more efficient and safer for everybody.We took a look at some of the biggest ways technology and transport are combining to change the world.
In the midst of their messy breakup with London, Uber has been pretty busy with other ventures. The latest news is that they’ve signed an agreement with none other than NASA to develop the software necessary for their flying taxi project, Elevate. This will likely be based on NASA’s existing Unscrewed Traffic Management program. UTM was introduced back in 2015 to regulate drone traffic.Must be nice, breezing through a futuristic skyport with absolutely no security checks in sight.Uber’s head of product, Jeff Holden, revealed that the company had signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to create an air traffic control system. This system will manage the low-flying taxi fleet, which Uber plans to have in the air by 2020.Of course, these vehicles Uber has imagined in the above video don’t exist yet. So, there are a few hurdles, but at least they’re making progress. Uber is testing the system and plans to launch it in three cities – Dallas-Fort Worth, Dubai and Los Angeles.The Uber Elevate service could drastically reduce trip times. More importantly, it will remove more vehicles from the road, easing congestion. If the system won’t be autonomous, here’s hoping they hire decent pilots.With NASA's influence, the prospect of a flying taxi service is not only closer, as the video suggests, but a lot more dependable, too. It also gives Uber something credible to wave around in the faces of sceptics.The only question remaining is whether this will be a real next-generation transport solution to the problem. After all, it sounds expensive, and could end up being just another way for rich people to avoid street-level congestion.“That’s not Uber’s MO,” said Jeff Holden. “If we’re doing this, you have to believe that we’re going to get the price very low.”
A few months ago, Volkswagen Group unveiled Sedric, the self-driving robo-taxi shaped like a temperamental bread bin.VW said ‘the concept is a shared mobility electric vehicle, designed from the start to offer the highest degree of self-driving autonomy for occupants.’In theory, a Sedric will be able to perform a number of duties, besides starring in a futuristic Stephen King reboot of Christine. This could include taking you to work, dropping your kids off at school, picking up deliveries or visitors from the airport, etc. All at the touch of a button.Sedric will be a fully automated operation, capable of carrying up to 4 passengers at a time. The vehicle will feature a two-part swivel door that opens wide and high enough for easy entry and exit. There will be no steering wheel or pedals, just two banks of seats facing each other in a lounge-like setup.The VW group will not build vehicles in the future, explaining the lack of the VW logo on Sedric. That task will remain with the group’s 12 marques.
A few days ago, a Las Vegas-based self-driving shuttle service celebrated its launch day by getting into an accident with a human driver.The shuttle reportedly operates on a 0.6 mile loop around downtown Las Vegas offering free rides to residents. An hour into its new journey, a delivery truck operated by a human driver pulled out into the street in front of it and the vehicles collided.This one can be chalked up to human error, as is the case with pretty much all road collisions and accidents. Luckily, nobody was injured. If this delivery truck had the same sensing equipment that the shuttle has, the incident might have been avoided.In Arizona, Waymo, the autonomous vehicle division of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has been operating its minivans on public roads without any human drivers.Starting very soon, Waymo plans to invite people for rides in these self-driving vehicles.Despite cities and countries lacking funds, the population continues to grow. The WHO (World Health Organisation) estimates that 7 out of 10 people on the planet will be living in cities by mid-century. This, coupled with climate change concerns, is forcing our world leaders to rethink the nature of current transportation systems.Technologies are emerging to meet these challenges.Traffic analytics, alternative fuels, autonomous vehicles, etc. – these are but some of the things being worked on. The necessary network infrastructure needs to be in place.With most of South Africa’s transport still road-based, we need to embrace and take advantage of what is available and what’s being worked on. The Fourth Industrial revolution is upon us.The technology could play a transformative part in future-proofing transportation in our country.There is the National Infrastructure Plan, at least. Let’s see if we implement it effectively.