Self-driving lorries: A long haul (The Economist – August 20, 2016)

A revolution in the trucking industry is a distance down the road

“DUEL”, one of Steven Spielberg’s early films, features a lorry apparently controlled by demonic forces rather than a driver. The sensors, cameras and software already steering the wheels of some of the world’s lorries, in place of drivers, are regarded as a similarly malign power by truckers fearing replacement by technology.

But they have little reason to worry about the arrival of self-driving lorries, and the benefits of safer roads and cheaper shipping should be felt more widely than any pain from job losses for years to come.

It has so far been carmakers and tech firms that have hogged the headlines in the race to develop autonomous vehicles. Ford announced on August 16th that it intends to have a car devoid of pedals and steering wheel on the road by 2021. But several firms have been working on driverless lorries.

Rio Tinto, a commodities giant, has put them to work at one of its iron-ore mines in Australia, and Volvo will soon begin testing a self-driving truck at a mine in Sweden. Mercedes-Benz, Iveco and most other lorrymakers have plans for autonomous vehicles, and a big beast of tech is also set to make a move on the kings of the road.

As The Economist went to press, Uber, a ride-hailing firm, was expected to announce it had acquired Otto, an American startup that is developing self-driving kit to retrofit to any lorry.

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