Posted on 13th Jan, 2017 by Ben Earnshaw
The next big thing in the international motoring industry, self-driving cars have been grabbing a lot of headlines of late. Though they potentially offer private drivers a whole host of benefits, the technology is still in its infancy, which can be especially problematic when applied to commercial and municipal vehicles like HGVs. Even when it develops further, there are still hurdles it may never be able to overcome.
This is obviously a huge priority for the motor industry, especially the heavy goods sector. It would be unfair to say that the creators of self-driving cars aren’t giving it consideration above all else, but even so it’s impossible to expect the software to perform flawlessly every time, no matter what stage at development it’s in, and this has crucial ramifications.
Though self-driving cars will be obviously be programmed to avoid collisions, they’re still inevitable; and collisions involving HGVs are invariably more dangerous than common fender benders. The increased mass and momentum of HGVs means that even when the brakes are applied, their stopping distances are increased accordingly, meaning they have a far higher capacity to cause injury or death than their smaller counterparts.
In the event of a crash, every split-second counts – though a computer might be able to make more calculations than a human, humans are equally capable of spotting something not accounted for in a computer’s reasoning. A good example of this is human traffic signals – right now, self-driving software is largely incapable of reading the hand signs of cyclists or traffic wardens, giving way to potential for serious accidents.
What’s more, gut instinct is often crucial on the roads – a driver will know to hit the brakes and stop if something’s wrong, even if he doesn’t know exactly what it is. A computer doesn’t have instincts, merely pre-set conditions, meaning that in the event of a problem – whether it’s a mechanical issue or a collision with a cyclist – if these conditions are not triggered the software may not even register anything amiss, potentially complicating the problem further (or, in the worst cases, possibly fatally).
Our TurnSafe range of products use software and sensors to prevent impending collisions, but a key aspect of their function is to notify the driver – keeping the all-important human element in the equation (whose visibility can also be improved with our range of vehicle cameras), rather than leaving the entire scenario in the hands of artificial judgement.
As we’ve no doubt emphasised, like any software, there will always be flaws or gaps in the reasoning. Though self-driving vehicles will undergo extensive testing before they hit the market – possibly for years yet, the programmers cannot universally prevent accidents from happening. A misinterpreted command or minor bug could turn into a major collision in an HGV – the consequences we’ve already touched upon above.
Failures won’t always be as tragic as to exact a human toll, but they could prove disastrous in in more mundane terms too. Even on long empty stretches of nighttime motorway, if the self-driving software navigation fails a human driver will need to be on hand to drive the HGV manually – or it may end up stranded on the highway. On the other hand, if the software fails when the vehicle is unmanned, the goods or products it was transporting could well spoil or be lost completely in the event of a crash. Even if they’re not, reaching the HGV and transporting its cargo onwards could prove costly in turn.
Whichever way you look at it, self-driving car manufacturers don’t have an easy task ahead of them. They are still a long way away from hitting our roads en masse – and even when they are, they’re likely to be prohibitively expensive for many companies and individuals. To maximise safety, it’s always good to keep a human eye in the mix, assisted of course by our extensive range of vehicle safety products. To see how they’ve already helped our customers, you can browse our range of case studies here.
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