Trucking industry, military test driverless vehicles

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An increasingly mobile international economy has led to the disruption of some transport markets. Uber has left taxi drivers seething, with some labor unions going so far as to shut down metropolitan area access in protest. However that service, along with similar competitors, at least relies on the traditional driving setup--a human behind the wheel.

Those cabbies may be even angrier when they learn the next generation of transport vehicles doesn't leave a seat for them. Google already revealed its plan to make its driverless cars available, leaving analysts to predict the next likely transport sector to adopt the emergent technology.

Joseph Stromberg at Vox discussed why the trucking industry is ripe for the inclusion of a nonhuman driving system. The market, responsible for about 68.5 percent of domestically shipped goods in the United States, would be made more efficient by making use of fleets of driverless trucks.

"The most immediate reason why driverless technology will doom truckers is the same reason it'll be the end for cab drivers: the cost of a machine operating a vehicle will be dramatically cheaper than the cost of a human," Stromberg said.

First, human drivers have many shortcomings relative to their machine counterparts. Sleep, time off and illness are all problems that don't arise with an automated driving system. And jobs lost by using driverless trucks are, at the very least, unattractive, as the industry constantly deals with poor retention rates--there was a 98 percent turnover rate in 2012, according to the American Trucking Associations--and the inability to find enough drivers.

Furthermore, research is already underway using highway systems, the 18-wheelers natural habitat. It's easier to program a machine to navigate the open road rather than city streets, and Japanese and European researchers have been working for years to realize the benefits of caravans of driverless trucks (those benefits being lower fuel expense and decreased greenhouse emissions).

After the trucking industry, there is another organization with even more of an interest in subtracting the human element from its transport operations: the U.S. Army. In the past week, the Army has announced benchmark success in one of its driverless projects and the conception of a new one.

Along with project partner Lockheed Martin, the Army announced a validation of its Autonomous Mobility Applique System (AMAS), which can be installed on any military vehicle to achieve automated driving. The next step is safety training, then scenario-based tests.

"We will conduct further safety testing within the next month, and the program will execute a six-week operational demonstration in the July-August timeframe, during which time soldiers and Marines will assess the system benefits in realistic convoy operations," says David Simon, AMAS program manager for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.

For more:
- read the article from Vox
- read the article from UPI
- read the Motherboard article on the Black Hawk automation project

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