Born out of need: How the Global South is driving transport innovation

By Will Duncan

The world’s emerging nations are fertile ground for radical and creative mobility solutions. Government-supported innovation is helping the Global South become a leading force in the future of transport.

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RT-Mart electric bus in China | Photo: Mars Hartdegen/Flickr

The transport sector is moving quickly these days. New technologies, shared services, and GPS are changing how we get from A to B. But perhaps one of the most interesting trends in transport is where, exactly, these innovations are coming from.

“The future of transport is in the Global South’s hands,” says Bambang Susantono, former transport minister of Malaysia and now vice-president of the Asian Development Bank.

It’s easy to see why: Twenty-seven of the world’s 33 megacities are in the Global South — a term that describes low- and middle-income countries in Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Extraordinary economic growth and rapid urbanisation have brought sudden change to the Global South. With progress comes a host of challenges — and, first among these is transport.

But need begets innovation. And thus, the assumption that innovation flows from rich to less prosperous regions, from industrialised to developing countries, from the northern to the southern hemisphere is being challenged. Inspiration for tomorrow’s transport solutions can be found in the Global South’s emerging nations by those who care to look.

Decades ahead

Take shared mobility. No other topic preoccupies city officials, transport planners and entrepreneurs in the industrialised North today as much as the question of how to get more than one person into a car built for four or more.

In the South, it’s been a reality for decades. “Shared mobility is everywhere when I travel cities as a global researcher,” says Fábio Duarte, Professor of Urban Planning in Curitiba, Brazil. “I take taxis in Brasília, hold on tight to ojek motorcycles in Jakarta, or figure out how to reach my destinations with matatus in Nairobi.”

Durante says that “thinking of shared mobility as a novelty is a narrow view held in the Global North”. It ignores the creative ways that societies with few cars and inadequate public transport are coping with the lack of options.

WhereIsMyTransport, a UK start-up, secured USD 1.5 million in funding in 2016 to create an accessible and accurate data service for Cape Town’s formal and informal transport routes. Informal shared minibus routes make up a significant proportion of the city’s commutes, which is typical of many cities outside of Europe and North America. WhereIsMyTransport’s digital map has made these services visible. They’re presented as complimentary or, for all intents and purposes, equivalent to any other way to get around the city.

After securing further investment, the company has expanded its data and mapping service throughout Latin America and Asia. A recent project saw informal transport in Mexico City mapped to include over 30 000 informal minibus routes.

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Formal and informal transport networks in Gauteng, South Africa. Source: WhereIsMyTransport

The South is electric

Electric mobility is another example. Despite ambitious pledges, the share of electric vehicles in the Global North remains marginal: just 2.5% of 2018 car sales in the UK were electric, 2.1% in France, and 1% in Japan. Only Norway stands out, with just under 49.1%.

The world leader in electric mobility today is China. Almost 99% of all electric buses and two-wheelers, and 40% of the world’s total of private electric cars can be found there.

This hasn’t happened by accident. The electric mobility revolution that is sweeping the Peoples’ Republic is the result of deliberate government policy. Beijing’s regulatory push mixes substantial investment into research and development, and strict emissions standards designed to force out internal combustion engines with targeted subsidies that have reduced risk for transport operators looking to adapt to the new cleaner technology. Thus, research, industry, and government are steered towards a prevailing direction, turning the country into a world market leader.

Both national legislation and city halls are in a position to provide the “enabling framework” for healthy competition, innovative ideas, and for market disruptions with the potential to greatly benefit citizens.

Emerging nations find themselves with greater freedom to innovate, as they tend to be less restricted by the historical legacies of some more developed countries. “Developing countries can break the mould of traditional transport,” says Susantono. ”The Asian car market is less wedded to internal combustion engines; hence the region now has the largest share of e-vehicles worldwide,” Susantono explains. “In this dynamic, governments of the Global South can be the leaders of change.”

In a further article looking into transport innovation in the Global South, we take Indonesia’s Gojek as a case study and examine Southeast Asia’s bustling on-demand transport market.

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To learn more about global transport innovation, check out the ITF Corporate Partnership Board’s new report Expanding Innovation Horizons: Learning from transport solutions in the Global South.

Will Duncan is currently studying a Master in Public Policy at Sciences Po in Paris, and is an intern at the International Transport Forum at the OECD.

 

Why fighting transport CO2 emissions is like “Game of Thrones”

by Andrew Jackson

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We all enjoy a good story, where the unsuspecting hero faces challenge after challenge, and eventually wins through to bring triumph for those we care for. “Game of Thrones” challenges that paradigm, as the heroes we love are killed off one by one – with betrayal, swords and poison.

While this comment about “Game of Thrones” may be a spoiler to few people, the International Transport Forum (ITF) at the OECD in May published a report on the future of transport which may include the biggest spoiler of any plot. And unlike in our perfect stories, the report’s plot is one from “Game of Thrones” – where our future ends tragically.

The story starts by looking at how much we will travel in 2050. Cheap cars, cheap flights and cheap freight will provide us with great access. We will be able to explore the world more easily and have the things we want come to our doorsteps from anywhere in the world.

The total distance we travel locally and internationally will continue to rise. New technologies, urbanisation, global patterns of trade and world population growth from 7.7 to 9.7 billion people weave together into a powerful story of our future. Increasing wealth sees many more able to afford to adopt the movement lifestyles of the developed world. The story concludes that by 2050 total travel will increase threefold.

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Changing how we move

Not only will there be a significant increase in movement, we will also change how we move. Fewer people will own their cars. More of us will use public transport and cycle and walk. The use of electric vehicles will increase. We will take all of these steps to make our transport system more sustainable.

But the “Game of Thrones”-like ending to our heroic efforts to reduce CO2 emissions will be that we will fail to reduce the amount of carbon produced by transport. The three-fold increase in the amount of miles travelled will mean that despite all of the international efforts to decarbonise transport, our poison pill will be a 60% increase in CO2 emissions from travel and freight by 2050.

The ITF’s analysis includes the assumption that we will follow through on all current pledges of worldwide action. It thus assumes that the percentage of trips by car in OECD cities will decrease from 75% to 46%, and that 35% of trips in cities will be by public transport. Overall, this will lead to 20% fewer of trips being made by car. Further assumptions are that the current rate of uptake of electric vehicles will continue and that we will have electric planes making all trips of less than 1 000 kilometres. But all this will still not be enough even to keep CO2 emissions from transport at current levels, let alone reduce them.

We are offered an alternative ending to the story.  A story where we double our current efforts for change in the transport system. The number of trips by car in cities would fall to 26% of trips. There would be a 5% to 10% increase in the densification of our cities. There would be widespread uptake of electric vehicles, and we will use electric aircraft for all flights up to 1600 kilometres.

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The change we need

Yet even this apparent heroic intervention in the form of major investments, rapid technological advances and promotion of significant social change would be destined to fall short of our goal. Just like in “Game of Thrones”, this would be another hero we could embrace, only to see that our renewed efforts fail to bring about the change we need.  Yes, in this scenario we would see a 30% reduction in carbon emissions from transport by 2050.  But it would be nowhere near the 80% reduction we need to avoid annual weather events of a scale and nature that historically were the tragedies of a century.

Tragedies like the 1931 floods in China, which saw more than a million people die, the North American drought of 1988 which led to damage of USD 130 billion and 10 August 2003 European heatwave, the hottest day in history killing 30 000 people across Europe.

I wish I could finish my story with a third ending, where we will live on happily ever after. I do not have one. This is a story that will only end well if we have heroic political leadership. Leadership that is willing to take decisions that will risk their personal political futures today in order to secure a positive future for society. But at the moment we are on a track to see world temperatures rise to the levels which are the worst nightmare of the climate change activists – summer is coming!

Andrew Jackson is Managing Director at Consulting Jackson. He is a former Deputy Chief Executive of New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport

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The ITF Transport Outlook 2019 is available via the OECD iLibrary here

 

 

Can Electric Cars Drive Global Decarbonisation?

nancy-vandyckeBy Nancy L. Vandycke, Program Manager, Sustainable Mobility for All Initiative, World Bank

Can one plus one be more than two? I believe that it can. In fact, I would wager that we must find opportunities to do so if we are serious about delivering our goals for the Paris Climate Agreement. The transport-energy nexus is precisely a place where we can find such opportunities; more specifically, I am talking about the possibility of global decarbonisation through the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). That said, we must always be aware of potential pitfalls. Allow me to share my experience.

The promise of global emission reduction

In 2017, transport accounted for 24 per cent of total CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. To reduce emissions, many countries have been promoting the electrification of transport. For many, adopting the trend for EVs is a way to transition passenger fleet away from conventional gasoline and diesel-fuelled cars. In fact, last year, global sales of EV surpassed a million units. Under the current trend, EV production could almost quadruple by 2020, with China leading the way.

34851733984_ef336560fa_kAs more and more EVs replace internal combustion vehicles, the energy burden for transport will eventually shift from oil to electricity. This is good news for the power sector. By riding on the trend of increased EVs, it can become part of a solution for global decarbonisation.

There is an added bonus for the power sector. For years, its profitability has been in decline. Charging EVs will add some load to the power grid, which is a welcome development for utilities against the continued decline in electricity prices.

Such a scenario seems promising, but there are potential pitfalls along the way.

The pitfalls

For a long time now, the transport and energy sectors have been talking about decarbonisation in their own circles.

As I sat in conversations with industry leaders from each sector—both in my role as the lead for Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All) and as a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) global council on advanced energy technologies—I came to realise how disconnected the conversations about decarbonisation are. If we were to connect the two sectors, we must bring them to sit at the same table.

Accordingly, SuM4All invited experts in the energy sector to the table at our last consortium meeting in January 2019. However, it soon became clear that each side is speaking about decarbonisation in their own language and neither side could understand the other. Until both sides find a common language and tie their conversations together, it is unlikely that developments in these respective industries will succeed at decarbonising the global economy.

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Even if both sides manage to come to an agreement on a common language and approach, one must be thoughtful about the way both sectors collaborate.

As of today, renewable energy accounts for merely a quarter of total global power generation. Without greening the power grid, a wholesale adoption of EVs will not result in true decarbonisation in either sector. Half of the G20 countries have made progress in expanding renewable electricity generation in the years leading up to 2015, but, alarmingly, nine saw declines in 2015 and the preceding years. Reducing the carbon intensity of power generation is what matters in the end.

But this transformation will not happen overnight. As the share of renewables increases in the energy mix, the carbon intensity of energy production will also increase. In fact, in the short term, one expects an overall increase in carbon emissions with the EV deployment, simply because of the EV battery manufacturing.

The way forward

The good news is that if we manage to co-ordinate policy interventions within the transport and energy sectors, we can make great strides towards decarbonisation. For example, policy support measures that target electrification in the transport sector should be linked to renewable requirements on the energy side.  For this reason, I plan to bring a clear and simple message to the Electric and Digital Mobility event ahead of the upcoming ITF Summit: to fully leverage the power of mobility, we need to concurrently clean up the grid.

If we manage to do so, one plus one can indeed be more than two, and the Paris Climate Agreement goals will be very much within our reach.

Nancy L. Vandycke is a speaker at the TUMIVolt Conference on 21 May 2019 in Leipzig, Germany. The ITF Summit follows from 22-24 May.

„Digital governance will make road freight transport fairer and safer“

by Volker SchnebleImage_Blog_Kapsch_3_MEDIUMSMALL

Only around 5% of the 6.2 million trucks in the EU and 11.2m truck in the US are ever checked for compliance with existing rules – whether these concern the vehicles themselves, the humans who use them or the load they carry. This lack of enforcement causes avoidable crashes, increased road maintenance costs and economic costs due to market distortions.

Data could be a powerful tool for improved enforcement of the rules in road freight. Indeed, a recent ITF report recommended moving towards digital governance approaches. The concept of “Data-led Commercial Vehicle Enforcement” (CVE) is operationalizing this approach, facilitating on-the-spot roadside controls as well as on-the-fly checks.

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Only around 5% of trucks in Europe and the US are ever subject to compliance checks

Data can help control vehicle condition (for instance whether maximum load weights are exceeded or the roadworthiness is imperiled) as well as monitor driver behavior (e.g. via digitalized tachograph records) or verify compliance with the rules of the market, for example by  checking that a company is licensed for freight transport of a specific type and in a given region.

Many rules, one enforcement mechanism

Market-based rules regulate the access of road haulage operators to the road transport market. In parts of the world with smaller countries, road transport often means cross-border traffic. To assure the functioning of the international road freight markets, the most important rules and regulations that govern road haulage are supranational.

Driver-based rules are those that apply to professional truck drivers and their specific actions when at the wheel, resting or in the state of availability. The regulation of driving time is a good example of a driver-based rule. In the European Union and the countries of the European Agreement Concerning the Work of Crews of Vehicles Engaged in International Road Transport (AETR), it is enforced by fitting every goods vehicle with a total weight of more than 3.5 tonnes with a tachograph that records driving and rest times. Similar regulations and requirements for drivers apply in the United States and in Canada.

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On-board units and receivers built into the infrastructure used by trucks can ensure that enforcement agencies are always in the picture

The increasing use of information technology in heavy goods vehicles makes automated, therefore ongoing and hence more effective enforcement of all of these rules feasible. Based on information provided by on-board units in real time and with the monitoring of the data facilitated through receivers embedded in the infrastructure that trucks use, enforcement agencies are always in the picture. In many cases, they won’t need to even act because enforcement can be automatic. Pilot research already indicates promising results –  see this video of a Direct Weigh In Motion and Credential Enforcement pilot programme in Indiana (United States) and a corresponding article in the Chicago Post-Tribune.

Don’t cross that bridge when you reach it

The road infrastructure automatically surveys a vehicle’s total weight and stops it from using weight-sensitive road sections – a bridge for instance – if it is too heavy. Similarly, existing information from the onboard systems on vehicle emissions could be used monitor compliance with the limits on CO2 or particle emissions required by vehicle condition rules – and signal that the vehicle may not enter, say, a zone restricted to electric vehicles.

The technology is already available. Now it is for governments to create market access and automated enforcement instruments: certified equipment, legal and administrative cooperation between national enforcement bodies or radio spectrum free of interference.


Volker Schneble is Managing Director Germany of Kapsch TrafficCom AG, a provider of intelligent transport systems. Kapsch works in tolling, traffic management, smart urban mobility, traffic safety and security, and connected vehicles. As a member of the International Transport Forum’s Corporate Partnership Board, Kapsch contributes its expertise to transport-related research projects undertaken at the ITF.

The Return of the Itinerant

By José Viegas

Autonomous road vehicles are attracting a lot of interest and  investment these days. It’s fair to predict that both the public discussion and the flows of money will keep growing. Attention is focused mainly on autonomous vehicles for passengers (think Google car, Tesla Autopilot) and automated road freight transport (think truck platooning, Otto).  Availability of those vehicles will lead to disruptive change in two other domains: private mobility on the one hand and professional transport services on the other.

Itinernat LibraryThe profound technological change implied by autonomous driving will inspire radical innovations in the way vehicles are used – as happened with phones, which have become much more than just devices to make calls since they became mobile. This innovation happens like a wave that feeds on itself until mature usage patterns emerge after something like 10 or 15 years. We must humbly recognise that nobody can claim today to have a clear vision of what those usages will be in one or two decades.

But that shouldn’t stop us of thinking boldly today about what might happen. Personally, I believe that itinerant services will be a new important usage area for autonomous vehicles. Such itinerant services were very popular in the 1950s and 60s in many countries, particularly with libraries. Those vans were serving areas that had few or no public libraries or bookshops, but still had many potential interested readers. I was an intensive user of a library van during my summer holidays for some years and have fond memory of the value it provided in terms of access to varied reading.

Changing places

Post offices or banks on wheels as well as rolling points-of-saleFood Truck grass for vegetables or clothes were also common in many regions, and sometimes still are. Recently, this phenomenon has seen something of a revival with the appearance of food trucks that bring high-end cuisine literally to the streets of hip urban quarters – in principle a modern, upmarket take on the Kebab or ice cream vans of yonder.

Automated vehicle will create a real opportunity for the resurgence of itinerant services, I believe. There seems to be a particularly strong case for them where the self-driving vehicle can provide some form of sophisticated equipment to which clients otherwise would have to travel. The most obvious examples that come to mind are in the health sector. The collection of medical samples for diagnostics purposes, for instance, could probably be organised with specialised self-driving vehicles, very likely with remote human support from a medical professional.
Vehicle autonomy not only reduces the cost of provision of those itinerant services and makes them more accessible to its users. Self-driving vehicles also make it much easier to change locations during off hours – during night time or on public holidays, say. Entrepreneurial spirit, associated with technological innovations in other sectors than transport will have a quite field to explore. The whole field of “experiencing”, presently a key target of the travel industry, comes to mind in association with virtual reality and possibly differentiated catering evoking the places thus visited.

Mobile Post officeUltimately, marrying a time-honoured service idea with
modern self-driving technology could help bring a wide range of
sophisticated services that currently can only be accessed in more time consuming and often costly ways to people everywhere. The space of opportunity for business innovation is clearly there.


Forever circling

So my bet is that we will see the re-emergence of itinerant services, but possibly on a much larger scale and with greater variety than the good, old fashioned library on wheels I knew. Unlike my bookish van, which returned to its depot in the evening and left from there again the next morning (with a good night’s sleep for the driver in between), the trips of a self-driving itinerant service will no longer have a clear origin or destination. It will be forever circling around, with “destinations” simply a succession of events along the way. Some of its functions could probably be performed without even stopping.mobile hair cut

From a transport policy perspective, this will be a more efficient and less travel-intensive way of providing certain services. For other business models,  this approach will generate new markets and probably additional vehicle kilometres on the road.

What the combined effect of all this will be nobody can say. What we can say is that autonomous vehicles will spawn new forms of mobility, and that it will pay off to carefully monitor this development – to spot new business opportunities, but ultimately also to enable them to thrive in a transport system that is efficient, safe, user-friendly, not only once we reach a future steady state, but throughout the radical transformation transport is entering.

José Viegas is the Secretary-General of the International Transport Forum

Driving from a distance

How remote-controlled trucks could pave the way towards fully automated driving

José Viegas, Secretary-General, International Transport Forum

driving-distance-remote-controlled-trucksAre we going to be comfortable letting go of the steering wheel? Many car makers and technology companies are betting on it. A flurry of recent announcements is predicting that driverless cars and taxis will be on our cities streets within five years. Uber just began a pilot of self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh, Tesla’s latest business plan clearly targets “fully self-driving” vehicles, and Ford is gearing up for mass market driverless car production by 2021.

Much less media attention has been devoted to a related issue: the possibility that driverless trucks will soon be roaming our roads. For this scenario the key question is a slightly different one: Are we ready to share the roads with dozens of tonnes of steel when there is no human in charge?

Once it becomes available, the operating flexibility and cost reductions from driverless operations offer trucking companies and their customers a strong carrot for its adoption. The International Transport Forum estimates that on long-distance routes driverless trucks could be operated with a cost advantage of 30% or more compared to conventional manned trucks. The advantages for hauliers are obvious: Drivers represent the biggest chunk of operational costs and at the same time a constraint on using trucks at full capacity – they do need breaks to rest, after all. Taking humans from the cabin means trucks could operate all day and night without having to stop, except for refuelling.

When machines take over

There are many issues that need to be solved before driverless technology can be cleared for use on public roads. Some are technical and need to be resolved by engineers and computer scientists. Others are public policy issues: Governments need to make the call as to when the machines can take over. This involves deciding how and when driverless truck systems demonstrate lower (real and perceived) risks of crashes than the current situation with humans doing the driving – and especially that they do not fail in situations that humans would normally handle well.

No driving system can ever be 100 per cent safe, whether humans or computerised systems are in charge. But in well-defined situations – for instance on motorways, where there is no crossing traffic and speeds are similar – automation technology may soon safely handle driving tasks for 99.9% or even 99.99% of driving time. But can there be a clear-cut percentage or success rate for allowing operation without a driver in the cabin that would satisfy the safety concerns of regulators (or of road users, for that matter)?

In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently published guidelines on automated vehicles. These provide an early indication about how it will judge when the machines are ready to take over. The US approach appears to be that driverless vehicle developers will be required to set out clearly how their vehicles respond to given situations (such as a loss of communications) and how they comply with each road rule.

A matter of feelings

Yet accepting robot trucks is not solely about rule compliance and crash probabilities. It also has a highly subjective dimension. That humans systematically overestimate their own driving skills is a well-documented fact. The result of this, among other factors, is 1.25 million road deaths every year on the world’s roads. Objectively, machines will probably be able to do better soon. Yet public acceptance may well depend more on how people would feel if they heard on the news that a 32-tonne semi-trailer with no human driver in the cabin had been involved in a fatal crash. Regardless of the actual crash performance of driverless trucks, the idea might well be scuttled if the public’s perception is dominated by unease, fed by rare but highly publicised crashes.

It is thus worth thinking about ways to move towards driverless trucks and the benefits they provide while reassuring the community that machines haven’t taken over. Three options warrant consideration.

The first is so-called platooning. In a truck platoon, several vehicles form a closely-spaced convoy in which only the lead truck has a human driver who navigates traffic. The following trucks are linked to the lead truck by wireless data links and automatically maintain a safe distance with the vehicle in front. If the trailing vehicles were allowed to operate without driver, quite significant cost savings would be possible. Although platooning has received a great deal of attention, e.g. from the European Union, the need to co-ordinate drivers and vehicles may make it less attractive than fully automated driving. Controlling “centipede” configurations of vehicles will also introduce new challenges for truck drivers as well as the other drivers on the same road.

Handing over control

A second transition option is that of part-time human control: Drivers remain obligatory on all trucks, but their role is reduced to taking over from computerised systems when unexpectedly difficult driving situations arise. Such passive driving technology is well-advanced: Truck manufacturer Daimler is testing driver-assisted automated trucks on the highways of Nevada in the US.

This will help build experience with autonomous driving, yet the approach also has its limitations. Most importantly, the hand-over between machine and human is particularly risky. The driver still needs to pay full attention and be ready to act at all times – so while his task may be less strenuous, he will still need rest. With machines in charge most of the time, there is of course the risk the driver will not always be ready to take over quickly enough. Not least, the need to have drivers on board means there is no significant reduction of operating costs, making this option less attractive to hauliers.

A third option is remote driving. Imagine control rooms where professional drivers are set up in a cabin-like environment that closely mimics the information and tools available in a real truck. These drivers would remotely monitor and control a number of otherwise self-driving trucks and intervene, taking manual control of steering, indicating, accelerating and braking, when and where needed. The relatively low complexity of driving on a motorway would make it possible to operate a fleet of trucks with a much lower number of drivers than that of the trucks under their control.

Truck driving as an office job

What sounds like science-fiction is already being tested in the real world, albeit in different contexts. Drones are just the most obvious example: the US Navy is currently in advanced tests of a remotely controlled fighter jet. In maritime shipping, Rolls Royce is working on freight ships controlled from land. In Australia, enormous trucks operating in the iron ore mines of Western Australia are being controlled by drivers in a centre 1 200 kilometres away. In the Netherlands, the remote control room approach is being used for the operation of low-speed driverless WEpod minibuses that operate on the five-kilometre route between the University of Wageningen and the city of Ede. And an Estonian firm is testing small robot vehicles for urban delivery in Washington, London and Hamburg that will be overseen from a control room in Tallinn, thousands of kilometres away.

Driving from a control room has obvious advantages. For the driver, trucking becomes a regular office job similar to that of an air traffic controller. Rather than having to sleep in the truck cabin somewhere in a parking area with no facilities, he can go home to the family at the end of the day. Compared to full automation, the remote driving approach also ensures some continuity of skills, as the best truck drivers redeploy to control centres that offer more stable and comfortable job conditions.

Herding trucks like sheep

In the control room, remote drivers would be alerted by the on-board systems when difficult situations arise on road in which computers perform less well than humans – such as bad weather that hampers sensors, or ambiguous situations a computer cannot easily adjudicate. Initially, the threshold for human intervention would be set low, but with growing experience and self-learning systems it could be raised to a level where the control centre steps in less and less.

A control room (perhaps owned by a truck manufacturer) could begin trials with a high ratio of drivers to trucks, even one-to-one. It would collect data (and share it with the regulator) on how often and under what circumstances drivers have to take over (and how often this occurs simultaneously). If the data shows that interventions from the control centre are sufficiently rare, its operator could gain regulatory approval to gradually bring more trucks under the control of each remote fall-back driver, depending on the risk aversion of the regulator.

Finally, remote controlling does not require the co-ordination of trucks as in the platooning approach; it could be operated anywhere with suitable communications coverage. This raises the challenge for control room operators: They will need to invest in the facilities, on-board systems and communication technology necessary to support remote interventions in a given area. As one-to-one remote operation would not be profitable (but a likely first step), investors would need to be confident that regulators will allow higher truck/driver ratios once safe performance has been demonstrated. But for vehicle manufacturers, the investment as such is easily within their means. And given the cost reduction and performance increase they would offer, the potential demand for remote-controlled trucks is evident.

A feasible path

The control centre model for driverless trucking on motorways seems to be a feasible path towards fully-automated trucks. It would also be directly applicable to other areas currently relying on professional drivers, such as taxis and buses. The significant cost savings would be attractive to operators, while the availability of drivers as a fall back in case of system failures could allay concerns about giving full responsibility to a robot.

If we knew that a highly skilled human driver was always ready at a moment’s notice to take control of the vehicle, wouldn’t we be more willing to share the road with it?