Automation is on the rise. For many years now, we’ve seen warehouses becoming dominated by robots and technology, and the trend is continuing. It’s anticipated that drone technology could be a significant part of the warehouse and logistics industry, but automation won’t stop there – driverless fleets with goods being shuttled around the world’s seas and roads are being researched and trialled and have the potential to radically change logistics.
Autonomous lorry trials in the UK in 2018
It’s expected that trials of automated lorry convoys will start taking place in the UK later this year as part of an £8m project led by the Transport Research Laboratory. The TRL, an independent group of engineers, consultants and technical specialists, look specifically at the future of transport. They’re briefed to understand how automated vehicles will fit into our future urban mobility needs. The trials will include up to three lorries travelling in formation, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle. It’s not fully automated though, a human driver will steer the first lorry, so the days of lorry drivers aren’t numbered just yet. Even pioneering companies like Tesla, that announced their semiautonomous truck last year, still require a human driver behind the wheel, even though the trucks have an autopilot feature. Last year, Uber’s self-driving truck made its first delivery of 50,000 beers – still manned by a driver, albeit it one that needed to do very little.
Research continues into autonomous ships
The world’s first autonomous, zero-emissions container ship is set to embark on its maiden voyage later this year, transporting fertiliser between Norwegian towns. It will still operate as a manned vessel, but the companies involved have the objective to make it fully autonomous by 2020.
In January 2018, Rolls-Royce opened a research facility in Finland with the goal to develop the technologies required to shape the future of an increasingly more autonomous global shipping industry. Such a bold move signifies yet another shift in the digitalisation of the transport sector, where ships will be autonomously navigated from land-based control centres, with artificial intelligence integrated into remote shipping operations.
The sceptical backdrop to automation
Of course, while these developments are futuristic and exciting, they aren’t without a raft of serious concerns. Debates are ongoing around issues of safety, insurance and cyber security. New regulations, laws and ethical codes will need developing, testing and implementing as we enter into a new era of driverlessness. And developing the technology required to protect automation is as crucial as the technology itself.