There have been many advancements in the fleet industry over the past couple of decades, and more improvements are still to come. One of the advancements on our horizon is the implementation of autonomous vehicles, which have become a hot topic of discussion over the past five years. In fact, there are over 1,400 autonomous vehicles in use in the US right now, with 80 companies employing their merits. Autonomous fleet vehicles will certainly be a part of the fleet industry going forward, but how do they work, and to what extent will they be used? This article will answer those questions and discuss autonomous fleet management in a future where autonomous fleet vehicles are the norm.
How Do Autonomous Vehicles Work?
Autonomous vehicles harness sensors to create maps of their surroundings. These sensors detect obstructions in the road, other vehicles, lane markings, pedestrians, and traffic lights. The software utilizes this information to create a path for the car by sending instructions to the actuators that control the car’s movement, such as acceleration, braking, or steering. With algorithms, the car can avoid obstacles, obey traffic laws, and drive safely.
Autonomous vehicles don’t even need all of the parts that standard vehicles need. There are laws requiring autonomous vehicles to have steering wheels and brakes, but some autonomous car manufacturers are removing these features. While legislation in most states is struggling to keep up, the Michigan State Legislature recently passed a bill allowing self-driving cars to operate without a driver or a steering wheel.
Autonomous Vehicles and 5G
If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ve likely heard a lot about 5G. 5G is all the rage when it comes to communication between devices. We are connected to everything these days, and everything is connected to everything else. This is a concept called the Internet of Things (IoT), which includes all of these devices that connect to the internet and how they communicate with each other. You may be surprised to learn that 5G can even help vehicles communicate with one another and with the world around them. There are three types of communication created by 5G and the IoT:
- Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V): You may assume from the name, but vehicle-to-vehicle communication is communication between two vehicles on the road. They can share all kinds of information, including details on speed, the direction of travel, or where they’re turning. V2V communication can even improve automatic braking because vehicles will sense each other better.
- Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I): V2I connects the vehicle with the world around it, including traffic lights, signals, and other infrastructure. This can be useful if the speed limit changes or congestion increases, as the vehicle can receive an alert. With V2I in place, cities will have a better flow of traffic.
- Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X): Everything in this context refers to anything not included under vehicles or infrastructure. In particular, it relates to cloud-based information such as satellites, weather, and traffic conditions. In the future, it can even advance to include pedestrians and cyclists.
With these types of communications in place, you can likely already see the benefits for fleet management. It will be far easier to track drivers, create routes, and keep drivers safe on the road.
The Challenges of Integrating Autonomous Vehicles into Fleets
No. 1: Acquiring Vehicles
It should be no surprise that autonomous vehicles are far more expensive than traditional vehicles. There is a ton of technology and equipment included in an autonomous vehicle that sends its price into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the early years of rolling out autonomous vehicles, this will be one of the most significant challenges in implementing the technology. On the bright side, however, experts estimate that the prices of these vehicles may drop as much as 90% in the next seven years, making them far more accessible to fleets of all shapes and sizes.
No. 2: Maintaining Vehicles
Traditional maintenance experts have never handled the technology involved in autonomous vehicles before. The machinery is not the only thing to worry about anymore. Now there is complex software on board that requires highly-skilled technicians, which means additional costs to fleets. Fleets who handle maintenance in-house may find it challenging to outsource their autonomous vehicles’ maintenance needs to a third party with the necessary expertise to work on them.
No. 3: Data Security
As with all technology, there is concern over compromised data. Autonomous vehicles house a tremendous amount of data regarding their location, surroundings, routes, and systems. This data must be protected from hacking who want to steal competitive data or cause accidents. Fleets that employ autonomous vehicles need to ensure that their software is up to date and state-of-the-art.
The Benefits of Autonomous Vehicles for Fleets
No. 1: Fewer Accidents
Of course, all fleets want to avoid accidents. They are not only costly, but they put your drivers in danger. It turns out that 94% of all crashes in the US are caused by human error. With autonomous cars, human error is taken out of the equation, making driving far safer.
No. 2: Increased Productivity
When your fleet doesn’t need drivers to be behind the wheel, they can focus on other tasks for your business. They can work with clients, perform maintenance, or even take over dispatching. Time spent driving is a waste, and it can be used more effectively with autonomous vehicles.
No. 3: Reduced Costs
Of course, switching over to a fully autonomous fleet will cost a lot initially, but the investment will eventually pay off. With fewer accidents, insurance premiums will go down significantly. Fuel consumption is expected to decline by 44% for passenger vehicles and 18% for trucks by 2050. There is no question that autonomous fleets will be cheaper to operate than traditional ones.
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