Who’s got the wheel?

Which would you prefer to see in your rear-view mirror as you are hurtling along a freeway – an erratic driver or an empty driver’s seat?

The surreal era of self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles is upon us.

“It is a bit freaky being a passenger, “ said local woman, Elizabeth Anderson, who has travelled in her sister’s driverless Volvo numerous times in Sydney.

“You’re not ready for it and it will slow down or apply the brakes on a really busy highway to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and it can be quite alarming that suddenly the car is doing what it wants to do.”

The autonomous SUV uses Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) safe-driving technology and has three driving modes.

“You can drive it yourself, and it will also interfere if it thinks you are in danger if you’re about to hit someone or another car.” Said Elizabeth.

Daimler, which is the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, was developing self-driving taxis with the software company Bosch, but that is ending.

Bosch is now collaborating with Volkswagen and will install autonomous software, based on 360-degree surround sensing, in vehicles next year.

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For urban streets, autonomous Volkswagen vehicles will have ‘hands-free’ systems. On a motorway, there will also be the option to activate a system which takes over all driving functions.

A vehicle you would be even less pleased to see on a motorway is a driverless truck. These are part of a booming industry in America but are still in the test run stage on Queensland’s highways.

Aurora is just one truck manufacturer now using self-driving technology and claims this will change the world, most importantly by saving lives. The technology is expected to increase safety and transform the logistics industry.

It will also cut costs as, unlike human drivers, autonomous truck software doesn’t need to pull over for a sleep or a burger or take mandatory breaks to stretch its legs.

A human driver takes three days to drive a big rig from Los Angeles to Dallas but a self-driving truck does it in 24 hours, Aurora has estimated.

Additionally, the per-mile cost would nearly halve, from $1.76 to 96 cents, according to Embark Technology, a self-driving technology start-up company which operates an autonomous trucking lane between Houston and San Antonio.

Thousands of trucking jobs will go but it opens up the opportunity for local truck drivers, according to Embark’s CEO and co-founder, Alex Rodrigues, on Tech Xplore.

“They will take over the autonomous trucks at transfer points and drive them to their final destination points,” he said

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Driverless trucks could keep supply chains open during COVID as drivers would not be furloughed as COVID cases or close contacts and there would be less cross-border COVID tests needed.

An increasingly automated transport industry will cut jobs and there is always the possibility that the vehicles’ sensors could fail.

However, there would be travel opportunities for people with disabilities and less accidents from drunk-driving, drug-driving, distractions, microsleeps and that previously unavoidable risk, human error.

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