Many fleet owners and executives believe the future of fleets to be autonomous vehicles (AVs). A study conducted by the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) and the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) surveyed 32 executives across 31 different fleets. They found that the majority of respondents believed autonomous vehicles would “become a reality at some point”.
If you’re involved in the fleet industry you should get to know autonomous vehicles better as they may have a huge impact on fleets in the future. In this article, we will answer the question of what is an autonomous vehicle? We will also outline what you need to know about autonomous vehicle technology, autonomous vehicle companies, and the five autonomous vehicle levels. Lastly, we will go over autonomous vehicle regulations and the future of AV jobs.
What is an Autonomous Vehicle?
An autonomous vehicle is one that is capable of sensing its own environment and operating without (or with minimal) human input. Autonomous vehicles can go anywhere traditional vehicles can go and perform all the tasks an experienced driver can perform.
Autonomous fleet vehicles would be capable of, for example, parking in loading bays, merging on and off of interstate highways, and reversing with a full load. In addition, AVs will be able to drive in bad weather conditions such as freezing rain and thunderstorms.
Autonomous Vehicle Levels
There are five levels of automation. These levels are used to categorize the level of autonomy a vehicle has. As the levels go up they represent increasing autonomy. The five levels are:
Level 0 - No Automation
This describes a basic vehicle with no automation features. The majority of fleet vehicles on the road today are Level 0.
Level 1 - Driver Assistance
This level includes lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control. The driver is still performing the majority of the driving work. Level 1 autonomy is present in many vehicles on the road today.
Level 2 - Partial Automation
Level 2 automation assists with controlling speed and steering. The driver must still have their hands on the wheel at all times and be ready to take control of the vehicle if required.
Level 3 - Conditional Automation
Level 3 automation sits right in between the present and the future of autonomous vehicle technology. At this level, vehicles are able to drive themselves but with limitations. One such limitation is the vehicles can only operate under ideal conditions and only in certain lanes on the highway. A human driver is required in the driver’s seat but may take their hands off the wheel until they are required by driving conditions to take over.
Level 4 - High Automation
At level 4 automation, vehicles are able to drive themselves without human input (beyond entering a destination). However, these vehicles are restricted to known use cases.
Level 5 - Full Automation
Level 5 autonomous vehicles are truly autonomous. They are capable of maneuvering through all road conditions and weather types without any human input. Vehicles that are level 5 autonomous don’t even require pedals and a steering wheel.
Autonomous Vehicle Technology
AVs are equipped with a significant amount of technology. The main components of autonomous vehicle technology are cameras, radar, LiDar (light detection and ranging), computer power, and other sensors.
Radar is one of the main ways that autonomous vehicles “see” the world around them. Based on radio waves, it has the lowest resolution compared to LiDar and cameras, but it’s capable of seeing through adverse weather conditions. LiDar, on the other hand, is light-based and although it has a very high resolution, it’s less useful in difficult weather.
AVs also utilize GPS tracking and ultrasonic and inertial sensors to get a better sense of what is happening in the world around the vehicle. One of the most important autonomous vehicle technologies is computing power. Autonomous vehicles have state-of-the-art onboard computers that process all the data generated by their sensors. The amount of computing power required to operate an autonomous vehicle is immense.
Autonomous Vehicle Companies
Amongst the hundreds of autonomous vehicle companies working in the space, there are three that stand out as leading the pack. They are Waymo, GM Cruise, and Argo AI.
Google parent Alphabet’s subsidiary Waymo is leading in terms of the number of vehicles operating and the number of miles driven. Waymo vehicles use cameras, LiDar, and radar sensors in addition to microphones to detect emergency vehicles. Waymo operates Level 4 autonomy taxis in Phoenix, Arizona. They are prototype testing level 5 autonomous vehicles.
Cruise, a division of General Motors, has the world’s second-largest autonomous fleet. It consists of 180 vehicles, and these autonomous fleet vehicles have driven more than 1 million miles.
Argo AI, a startup backed by Ford Motor Company, is now testing 100 AVs across six cities in the United States. Ford invested $1 billion in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based company.
Autonomous Vehicle Regulations
There are no federal regulations for autonomous vehicles in the United States. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Federal Autonomous Vehicle Policy includes no rules or regulations (only guidance) for states. As of 2020, 31 states had chosen to enact regulations on AVs.
Autonomous Vehicle Jobs
Barrie Kirk, executive director at the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence, thinks that drivers will still be needed while autonomous vehicle technology transitions to full level 5 automation. He believes automation will first hit highway driving before it adapts to city streets.
In his view, there is an opportunity for drivers to complete the “last mile” of the delivery. One vision of this is bringing goods from a truck by the highway into the city. Kirk thinks fleet companies should plan ahead for automation and said “if they wait until the technology is here, they are too late, and they’ll be losing out. We recommend that people start planning now.”
Autonomous vehicles may be here sooner than you think. These vehicles are capable of driving on their own and are equipped with the cutting edge technology of tomorrow. To learn about this incredible technology and how you can implement them in your fleet, head to Azuga. Here you’ll find resources for fleets of all sizes and helpful tips for successful fleet management.