Benefits and challenges of an autonomous transport system

A future autonomous transport system comes with both great benefits and major challenges. And it's important to see the consequences automation brings. That was a message from key note speakers Olle Häggström and Paul N Leiby during the seminar "Autonomous transport systems - the good, the bad and the unknown" arranged by Chalmers University of Technology and Gothenburg University in the end of October.

Based on research on automated vehicles, Paul N Leiby, Distinguished Research Scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, stated that low level of automation on roads will be reached this decade while high levels of automation will occur during the next decade. By 2030 full autonomous vehicles without humans driving them will be trafficking our roads.
A higher level of automation is expected to reduce energy consumption with the help of new possibilities such as platooning, eco-driving, improved crash avoidance among others. Automation also gives a safer traffic environment when human errors is not a big issue.

However, safer traffic opens up for higher speeds which in a dystopian scenario contradicts eco-driving and platooning and instead increases the transport sectors energy usage. Paul N Leiby comes to the conclusion that potential energy consumption reductions in a future automated transport system are substantial, but uncertain and that the total fuel consumption could increase notably.

Another speaker, Anders Grauers, Associate Professor at Chalmers University of Technology and Specialist at the Swedish Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Centre sees a future where small vehicles will evolve into transport vehicles. For example, automated devices like the robot lawn mower will turn into goods transporters. First in restricted areas and with small number of goods, but as technology develops and becomes cheaper the usage will expand to heavier goods, transportation of people and over longer distances. His conclusion is that automatic driving may develop outside the traditional vehicle sector and that it opens up for many new types of vehicles.

Whatever the future brings us, it's wise to carefully analyse the effects of new technology. Another key note speaker, Olle Häggström, Professor of Mathematical Sciences, Chalmers University of Technology focused on the unknown impact of autonomous system and artificial intelligence. It's important to take into consideration what machine intelligence may bring. Can military AI technology become dangerous, will robots outcompete humans on the labour market and what will happen when humans are no longer the most intelligent beings on earth?

"Predicting the future is difficult, and predicting future technological advances even more so", says Olle Häggström. "Given the amount of value at stake, we should nevertheless try to make as sensible predictions as we can and then to act with foresight", he continues.

Text: Andreas Kron