Driverless technology has become almost synonymous with autonomous cars. But there is a subtle difference between the two. Autonomous cars are based on driverless technology, but there are many other types of driverless technologies other than cars, which will completely revolutionize transportation, be it roadways, railways or airways.
A vague analogy regarding autonomous cars and driverless technology could be vis-à-vis blockchain and bitcoin. For a while, bitcoin, the popular crypto currency, used to be considered as a byword for blockchain, the technology which is at the heart of crypto currencies. But the enormous utility and slew of applications of blockchain are not exclusively limited to crypto currencies only.
Autonomous cars have gained a lot of prominence of late, mainly due to large technology companies being exuberant about embracing these cars and because of trial runs that were conducted in many parts of the world. But let’s have a look at some of the relatively-obscure applications of driverless technology that will redefine transportation forever.
This is not a mere fantasy or a blueprint, but something that is already is the pipeline. There are many trains working on Automatic Train Operation (ATO) system but they do require a human operator as well, in cases of system failure or emergency. Initially the testing would be on short-distance trains which would then extend to long-distance ones.
Vancouver Skytrain of and the Singapore MRT are self-driving trains that cover a distance of over 80 kilometres. In the future, more railway locomotive companies would look towards building self-driving trains. Germany’s national railway operator, Deutsche Bahn (DB), plans to make most trains driverless by 2023.
Navigating through stormy seas requires a lot of focus, technical knowledge and expertise on part of the ship crew and director. There are always risks of the ship losing direction, going too far away in the midst of the sea, or colliding with an iceberg, and to many people it might seem that for this human knowledge and direction is irreplaceable. But in the age of rapid innovations in AI, this may no longer be the case. While the adoption of self-driving technology is really slow in the shipping industry, but is expected to gather pace.
Kongsberg, a Norwegian shipping navigation company, has partnered with another company named Yara to build Yara Birkeland, an autonomous cargo ship which will take to the waters in 2020.
By the year 2020 it is being hoped that the International Maritime Organization will also change its regulations to facilitate more autonomous ships. Just like trains, initially, the distance covered by the ships would be limited.
In many cities of Europe we would be soon able to see self-driving buses hitting the roads. The Swedish capital Stockholm has put driverless buses on the roads that can travel at a maximum speed of 24 km/hr. Though the buses are without a steering wheel and operate automatically but there is a driver inside it for emergency scenarios, as mandated by the Swedish laws. The driverless bus is a culmination of the collaboration between Ericsson and the local government authorities. As of now, it is a pilot project. The Chinese city pf Shenzhen is also testing driverless buses. Currently, the reach of self-driving buses is highly localized but they are gaining popularity in many parts of the globe. Singapore plans to introduce these buses on the roads in 2022.
Aircrafts: A plane flying in the skies without a pilot might seem not only too ambitious but also unrealistic at the moment, but aeronautical industry is envisioning it. Aersopace giants like Airbus and Boeing are investing in AI systems that would enable aircrafts of the future to fly on their own. Ofcourse there would be many legal hurdles as it remains to be seen whether aviation authorities give these planes a green signal or not.