If any company would have a vested interest in seeing driverless technology come to fruition, it would be Delphi, one of the largest makers of radars and vehicle sensors in the world. But according to The Information, their CTO, Glen De Vos refutes the view that autonomous vehicles will be on highways before they will be on city streets. In his words, the technology to handle high-speed highway autonomous traffic “does not exist” and current technology “can’t ‘see’ far-away objects such as people or debris.”
This argument matches up well with the position of some of the folks at ATA. According to sources involved with the Association, the ATA makes a strong argument that when vehicles traveling down the highway at 60 mph have an issue, there is little time to react. This counters the argument that folks use when discussing how planes fly themselves with autopilot. The thing that most people forget about is that there is a still a pilot on board, primarily to be available in case something goes wrong. Autonomous trucking is far more complicated than auto piloting an airplane. Once a plane is wheels up, its complications and challenges are small compared to the issues that happen on the ground. As long as the plane maintains adequate separation from other aircraft and avoids weather issues and obstructions, the environment in which a plane operates is almost a vacuum. A truck on a highway is not as blessed. Unlike an airplane, a truck doesn’t have minutes to deal with an emergency. Even if a plane loses an engine, it has a glide path that allows it to lose altitude at a consistent pace, enabling it to find a proper landing spot.
The clock on in-cab truck emergencies are measured in milliseconds and humans still have the fastest processor in the known universe.
It does appear, however that Delphi is bullish on autonomous vehicles that operate at low speed and in congested areas at low speed. In this model, the trucks would be autonomous while containers are being loaded onto chassis, without holding up the drivers. They would be rotated into cycle while they are being loaded. Imagine a car-wash without the rails driving the vehicle into motion. This technology is already market-ready and is most commonly seen in Tesla’s low speed autonomous car ushering in a parking lot. Implementation of such technology will not be without controversy. The unions still have a significant hold on the ports. Any implementation of such a technology will require the support of unions that control them.
The Information suggests that Delphi’s CTO believes that Tesla’s attempt to create an autonomous truck will ultimately fail.
The article does not mention or discuss platooning, which is expected to be implemented broadly in the market over the next few years. While each truck travels in a tightly controlled caravan, a driver is on-board each truck.