The AED Foundation has released “A Study of the Impact of Autonomous Technology: 2019 Report,” performed by CAVCOE (formerly the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence). The study details the impact of automated vehicles (AVs) on the business models of AED’s members and their customers. The complete study can be found at www.aedfoundation.org/a-study-of-the-impact-of-autonomous-technology/.
AVs are beginning to saturate the heavy equipment industry in the forms of fully automated buses and heavy haulers, fully automated agricultural equipment, and driverless cars. Continued rapid development implies a substantial impact on AED members and customers.
Practical Implementations to Come
According to the study, automated systems will first emerge in “easier-use cases such as small, low-speed automated shuttle buses, cars for driverless taxi applications in well-mapped urban areas, and autonomous tractors for moving trailers at low speeds in ports and logistics-handling areas.”
More challenging forms of implementation will follow these. The AVs that are currently in use are designed for locations such as private land or downtown areas. They are meant for areas with geographical constraints.
Benefits of further development include improved safety, reduced emissions, freed-up time and cost savings. For example, it is estimated that full development of autonomous and connected vehicles could lead to a significant reduction in traffic collisions, fatalities and injuries.
Developmental trends point toward more advances in driverless vehicles, including increased versatility. In other words, AVs will likely be operable in almost all types of locations by the 2030s.
One of the most important trends in development has to do with business models. There will be a shift in the direction of mobility-as-a-service, which means that the market will be an exchange of services rather than goods. This change will directly impact infrastructure projects.
The two autonomous systems that are most relevant to AED members are autonomous driving systems (ADS) and autonomous work systems (AWS). These systems are likely to produce algorithmic enhancements to otherwise manually labored projects, and they require only remote control from a qualified technician.
For example, the mining sector especially has made strides in the development of autonomous systems. The implementation of these systems in the mining sector has greatly improved the efficiency and safety of such operations, above and below ground.
Komatsu has trucks operating on seven different sites, six of which are fully autonomous, and they have no record of any incidents or threats to safety. Some of the benefits that were noted at Komatsu’s Arizona Proving Grounds media event included “reduction of risk from drowsy or unskilled drivers, taking personnel out of hazardous working areas, and centralized control.”
There will also be a shift from fuel-powered vehicles to battery electric vehicles, which will have lithium-based battery cells.
These advancements in the mining sector are transferable to the construction sector. Developments in semi-autonomous equipment are ongoing, with the hope of achieving full autonomy.
The construction sector has seen an increasing number of humanoid robots being introduced into projects. They are capable of driving vehicles, assessing rough terrain or cluttered spaces, delivering items, and more. Advancements in these autonomous workers are expected to continue.
In addition to the mining and construction sectors, there will be changes in the agriculture sector. Tractors have been the main focus of the autonomy boom in farming, and the ultimate goal is precision agriculture solutions. While some of the current autonomous tractors operate under supervised autonomy, there is a growing number of fully autonomous tractors.
Foresting is another sector that is implementing AVs, although foresting introduces more limitations such as remote areas, steep slopes, rugged terrain and a general lack of cell towers and Wi-Fi. Work on remedying these limitations is ongoing.
In-Depth Analysis of an AED Member
The Berry Group, with five Bobcat dealerships, highlights some of the ways in which autonomous systems can impact the construction sector. Berry’s current Bobcat machinery is still mostly traditional with a few driver assistance systems, but developments point to more integration of autonomous systems.
Some expected changes include autonomous vehicles being capable of carrying out certain tasks better than human operators, significant redesign of Bobcat equipment, and eventual full automation of almost all tasks.
The Berry Tractor division is beginning implementation of more advanced autonomous systems such as GPS and driver assistance systems. They have also been using remote control to repair sinkholes and for working over known caverns. The integration of drones into operation is also of interest to developers.
All the current uses of autonomous systems, as well as the anticipated advancements, come from a focus on cost savings, but there is likely to be resistance and hesitation from customers and workers.
Full automation in the tractor division is already happening, and the trend is expected to continue for more types of vehicles. Technicians will need to learn new skill sets, and customers will need to be retrained as these developments enter the industry.
Implications for AED Members and Their Workforces
Artificial intelligence (AI) technology is rapidly advancing and will likely catalyze and facilitate the growth and expansion of most technology.
Ray Kurzweil, a Fellow with Google, predicts that the early 2030s will mark an “‘event horizon,’ as forecasting past this date will be open to even greater error than before.”
That event horizon will involve mostly advancements in AI technology, and progress in AVs will likely be a by-product thereof. In addition to these, even advancements in robotics could benefit AED members.
Optimistically, those technologies will be easily transferable to equipment that is relevant to AED members. The growth of AI is indicative of the developments to come to AVs, and predictions should greatly consider and follow advancements in AI technology.
For example, some key advancements to look out for include but are not limited to “ADS/AWS technology that is safe enough to be released commercially, confirmation that ADS/AWS technology can satisfy legal and liability requirements, and substantial investment in ADS/AWS from one or more key players in AED sectors.” Milestones such as these will be crucial components of predictions and planning.
Pessimistically, concern for safety will be the greatest challenge for autonomous systems and is already hindering the rollout of those systems on public roads. However, most AED members use equipment in controlled environments on private land, so they will likely have access to this technology sooner than many other sectors.
These changes could raise concern for AED members and their clients, as they might end up with stranded assets and obsolete equipment. AED members can expect some changes to equipment design, but overall, equipment will remain relatively similar to its current forms.
Furthermore, end users might find themselves renting equipment rather than owning it, and the move to battery electric vehicles will yield a wider variety of available machines. As the technologies evolve, there could be reduced demand for certain equipment from AED members.
AED members and clients are encouraged to follow such developments closely and to actively plan for the continued implementation of AVs. Plans should be flexible and versatile to accommodate for any unforeseen changes in the technology or business.
These advancements are expected to “change the equipment industry as much as the transportation industry.” Business models will likely gain both opportunities and challenges, such as new equipment designs and updating the skill sets of employees.
Disruptive changes are on the way, and AED members and clients should move proactively and positively in the direction of significant trends. It will be crucial to remain receptive to these changes in order to avoid being truly disrupted by them.
This study offers a step-by-step plan for dealing with these changes. Find it here: www.aedfoundation.org/a-study-of-the-impact-of-autonomous-technology/.