I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of transportation professionals and policy-makers yesterday, with an agenda devoted to new technologies. Including autonomous vehicles, of course.
If there was a consensus, it was that AVs aren’t ready for prime time – and may never be in some conditions, like complicated urban environments. Or under adverse conditions.
That’s confirmed by a guy who should really know.
It’ll be decades before autonomous cars are widespread on the roads — and even then, they won’t be able to drive themselves in certain conditions, the CEO of Waymo said Tuesday.
John Krafcik, head of the self-driving car unit of Google parent company Alphabet, said that though driverless cars are “truly here,” they’re not yet ubiquitous. And he doesn’t think the industry will ever achieve the highest driving rating of being able to drive at any time of year in any weather and any condition …
Let’s translate: he means snow. Or a rainy dirt road when the car and its sensors are covered in mud. That means: it’s blind.
But there is one place where AVs could thrive, and soon. I’d predict the inside lanes of fully separated freeways that could be wired, maintained and used exclusively for trucks and other fleet vehicles. That would work for the inter-city portions, connected to intermodal yards and hubs, which could then be used to transfer goods to delivery vehicles with drivers for short-haul trips. (I’d imagine that Amazon would build their own, essentially creating proprietorial ports.)
The Waymo guy agrees:
Krafcik on Tuesday said trucking is one area where self-driving vehicles could soon appear in the next couple of years. The US currently lacks about 50,000 truck drivers required for logistics, and that’ll grow to a shortage of about 275,000 over the next couple of years, he said.
“The trucking shortage is now,” Krafcik said. “Moving goods on freeways to hub to hub is fairly straightforward.”