Why the world needs universal autonomy


Originally posted for Oxbotica

As a society, we are going through another technological shift so significant it could almost be compared to the invention and roll-out of the computer. Autonomy is set to change the world we live in, disrupting every conceivable business model and industry. Autonomy has the potential to enhance our safety, reduce carbon emissions and enrich our quality of life. The way we move people and goods is about to fundamentally change forever.

But while autonomy is set to dramatically alter the mobility landscape, much of the focus has so far been on a limited segment of the transport sector – on-road cars. All this intelligence around autonomy deployment is then siloed to that one domain – it cannot be used for other applications.

Universal autonomy is the solution here – autonomy software that is not constrained by environment, location, market or vehicle and which allows vehicles to operate with total freedom from external infrastructure such as GPS. This means it can be deployed anywhere – it can use its intelligence from one domain to feed another. Learnings from an autonomous drive in a mine can be reapplied to an implementation in an airport.

It’s not just on-road vehicles that will benefit from autonomy – there is a much bigger opportunity out there. In fact, off-road autonomy is a nearer-term opportunity in comparison with on-road autonomous cars, with many executives in airports, mining, and logistics already looking to deploy autonomy off-road now.

As universal autonomy deployment spreads, individuals and businesses alike will reap the benefits of this technology.

Universal autonomy will increase our safety and security

If we take airports, having humans airside presents a huge security risk. It only takes one person to flout protocols and create a security vulnerability which can be exploited by criminals. For this reason, manned airside trucks go through rigorous security checks on their way from airport to airside. The final check is a security screening of the human driver. With universal autonomy, this final check would become redundant, reducing security threats while speeding up processes.

Meanwhile, autonomous cars are expected to reduce on-road fatalities caused by human error by up to 94% according to the American Center for Mobility. The vast majority of accidents are caused by human error or inattention. Universal autonomy software would help to prevent road accidents no matter the time of the day, weather, environment or vehicle involved.

Universal autonomy will boost operational efficiency and reduce pollution

In the trucking industry, for example, there are significant operational challenges that universal autonomy can help to solve.

A key challenge this sector is facing is the growing truck driver shortage. In the US alone, there over 900,000 unfilled truck driver vacancies – there are obvious benefits of implementing universal autonomy here.

Truck operators can save on fuel as well as on repair and maintenance with universal autonomy, as autonomous systems use fuel-efficient driving techniques and can reduce tyre damage. They can also be driven 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with no breaks, even when drivers are asleep, helping to cut congestion on the road.

Universal autonomy will enrich our quality of life

Software that allows any vehicle to operate anywhere is a highly appropriate solution for dangerous working environments such as mines. While the number of fatalities in mining has been decreasing constantly for over 20 years, a 2016 study on US mining safety has indicated that 57% of all the severe injuries recorded between 2000 and 2012 occurred while a mine worker was operating a truck.

In future, the number of roles involving manning mining trucks will be significantly reduced, opening up safer, less physical career opportunities such as fleet maintenance and management roles. Autonomy is set to drastically improve workers’ quality of life in such sectors by removing the threat to their personal safety.

And for the average car driver, autonomy will convert their driving time into leisure time, freeing up as much as an average of 50 minutes per day for road commuters, according to the World Economic Forum.

The future of universal autonomy

Autonomy is clearly an incredible opportunity that will improve our lives at work, at home, and on the road.

There are so many use cases for universal autonomy software that can already be applied in the real world, particularly in off-road domains. With businesses in so many different sectors able to benefit from this technology thanks to universal autonomy software, the autonomy opportunity has become something tangible and deployable, something that can be incorporated into company strategies.

If any vehicle, at any time, in any place can become autonomous, there really are no limits – we all stand to benefit.