Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Civilian UGVs: A Major Change is Coming

Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, which won last year's Urban Challenge, has teamed with its contest sponsor, Caterpillar, to develop autonomous control systems for Cat's two largest mining trucks. Caterpillar will use the vehicles as part of an autonomous haulage system which it is developing for BHP Billiton, a global resources company. The robot monsters are due to be operational by 2010, with the aim of improving productivity and safety.
When discussing the Grand Challenge/Urban Challenge, everyone talks about autonomously driving cars that free everyone to be a 'passenger.' Those will be a big deal and if GM is being truthfully are going to be available in about 10 to 15 years. However, these are normal passenger cars.

What-if you put this tech into, say, construction vehicles like the above? You set them to work in a quarry on a loop. Wait...no more overtime or benefits or...if the cost of the upgrade is one year's salary for the guy it replaces, you have a win.

What-f you put this on big rigs that run across the country? Theoretically, you'll get better gas mileage out of them. You'd also NEVER have the problems of the driver needing sleep. The same vehicle can work for 24 hours/day instead of what they are supposed to do which is something like 16 hours. It will absolutely destroy the trucker culture, but...

IDK how many jobs are involved here, but there may be some push back. As well as increased efficiencies.

The big hang up other than jobs will be trust.


Tom said...

Trust is a big deal. Even if people can make cars/trucks/etc. more efficient and safer in general, about the time an autonomous semi plows stupidly into a bunch of other cars/people, the general statistics won't matter. They'll have to be almost perfect before people will let them on the roads. That's my guess.

mbmichael said...

long-time lurker.

trucker culture is already not "smokey and the bandit" or "convoy".

"About 9% of the nation's 3.4 million truck drivers are independent owner-operators, according to the Department of Labor."


the more interesting question to me is how long before automated vehicles are allowed to utilize public freeways. if we had decent railroads, I'd expect trains to be first.

Will Baird said...

Hi mbmichael!

I'm delighted that you decided to step out of the shadows. If you would be so kind, do so more often.

Surprisingly, I have some experience with the trucker culture. I had a stepgrandfather that owned a trucking company before he sold it and my mother worked as a driver for Swift for a while.

Trucker culture also covers those that are 'just' drivers for the giant trucking companies as well as owners. Based on peaking, so to speak, it definitely has a culture all its own...and probably wouldn't survive having robotrucks being turned loose on it.

Automated trains might happen faster, indeed. However, I doubt many people would notice much.