17 December 2018 - 18:00
A space odyssey
Autonomous driving becomes part of everyday life
Remotely driven cars, buses without drivers but also driverless tractors cultivating fields and computer steered ships.
This isn’t something out of a science fantasy movie but rather the result of rapid technological advances which have already changed our perception of time.
In some parts of the world autonomous driving has already become part of everyday life. Such as underground trains in large American cities, Dubai, Vancouver, Singapore, Hong Kong, Lille, Paris, Copenhagen, Milan and Rome. The increasing number of underground railways without operators have come to symbolise driverless transport within cities.
The full automation system replaces the driver, operates the train, opens and closes doors and can identify obstructions as well as potential emergencies.
Technology used for self-driving underground and for road traffic is fundamentally the same, and if we have been talking about self-driving cars for some time now, in the United States as well as in Canada, China and Japan, many local institutions are now inaugurating local transport services with driverless-buses on short and easy routes.
It is easy to believe that we are at the beginning of a major change in the automotive sector, but also of a fundamental transformation of public transport in which within the next ten years driverless buses will move through streets of the world’s cities with ease, therefore solving complex problems such as quality and cost of public transport.
It will be normal to travel on a bus driven by artificial intelligence, moving on its assigned route whilst adapting to speed limits, traffic, able to stop and scan as well as avoid obstacles, just as our cars will do. It is harder to imagine getting used to calling a taxi but instead being picked up by a drone/helicopter which will fly us to our destination whilst avoiding traffic jams on the ground.
No, no pilot: just you, the drone and the sky. No flying cars rushing through the sky as in Blade Runner, but big drones flown remotely in order to utilise the low airspace not used by planes. It will also be used by those drones connected to the 5G network, delivering parcels and goods purchased online. These drones will also be of great help in extreme situations, such as reaching isolated areas after natural catastrophes.
Even insurance companies can take advantage of drones, by taking photographs of damage when a claim is made. Aerial pictures can help to precisely identify damage suffered, which insurance assessors cannot always reveal with full certainty, not to mention the substantial reduction of the time spent handling the claim. Speed also means a financial saving for the insurer: it is estimated that 11% of each policy’s price is spent on investigation and clarification of the damage.
The world is changing and more people will be congregating in metropolitan areas. The UN estimates that by 2030 there will be 43 megalopolises with more than 10 million inhabitants, the majority in developing countries throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In 2050 nearly 70% of the world’s population are forecast to be living in urban areas following constant emigration from rural environments.
In the face of these trends it is natural to think of technology as the main resource to improve the liveability of cities and also the necessary supplies, connecting worlds hitherto disjointed such as road, air and sea transport, not to mention the agricultural sector.
It is true that we mainly talk about technological innovations solely in terms of land and air mobility, but 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by oceans and large expanses of water that we sail despite the many problems associated with maritime traffic. These include not only pollution but also damage to marine life and risk of piracy. The development of automated cargo ships designed to increase efficiency and reduce emissions offers great help in overcoming these problems. In Sweden, there is already one vessel capable of transporting 120 containers completely without crew although only over a distance of 7 miles.
However, autonomous ships could become the most revolutionary innovation in recent decades. Experts predict that in 2019 the first Japanese bulk freighter will come into operation with no seamen on-board; In 2025, the offshore sector will be affected and by 2050, the Chinese government plans to manage all types of moving vehicles remotely. A completely different scenario is therefore envisaged for sea routes too, with the construction of large automated cargo ships, powered by gas and capable of carrying everything.
The benefits in terms of costs and safety are obvious, given that about 75% of maritime accidents are now due to human error. Then there is also the reduction of the risk of injury or death of the crew, as well as the discouragement of piracy, since it is not possible to take the crew hostage and demand a ransom.
Finally, there is only agriculture sector. Technology has come to the assistance of farmers who, by using applications and artificial intelligence, can significantly improve working conditions and yield.
Learn more about using drones at the page Generali, a pioneer in the use of drones in claims management.