Innovative technology cleans up transport on land and at sea

Driverless vehicles – soon a reality or just a dream?

By Antoinette Price

Authorities worldwide face the challenge of ensuring improved road safety and providing efficient transport systems to address congested roads and pollution in growing cities. They are also tasked with providing large aging populations and people with disabilities greater mobility.

Starship delivery robot
The new delivery man (Photo: Starship Technologies)

The place of driverless cars in future urban networks

The fully automated car could be part of the answer to most of these issues, but it does not yet exist. Technological developments still need to be met. Vehicles will gradually connect to the Internet of Things (IoT), so that cars can communicate with roadside infrastructure and other cars, to improve traffic flow and avoid accidents. In recent months however, the news has highlighted some of the technical shortcomings in several incidents involving partly automated cars.

e-tech reported on a meeting organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) at the Geneva Motor Show entitled The future networked car. Vehicle manufacturers, automotive and information and communication technology (ICT) industries, governments and regulators discussed the status of vehicle communications and automated driving.

Key conclusions:

  • International Standards will contribute to achieving safer, more reliable vehicles and deal with compatibility issues within complex intelligent transport systems, which in some regions like Europe, go beyond borders.
  • Authorities must keep up with technology innovations and respond with more timely regulatory changes if required.
  • Car technology must prioritize in-vehicle safety applications to gain user trust.
  • Security measures to prevent data breaches and protect personal safety, as well as legal liability and insurance policies, must be established before such vehicles become mainstream.

The advent of self-driving cars is changing the auto industry. As the cars become more like computers on wheels which are increasingly run by software programmes, tech start-ups and traditional car makers are deciding whether to work together or compete. Examples of such partnerships include Volvo and Uber, Toyota and Tata Capital, GM and Lyft, a rideshare company, and Volkswagen and Gett, an Israeli car share app.

The new delivery man or rather machine

The new delivery man could come in many shapes and sizes. As more companies trial automated delivery services, your next online order may be dropped off by a drone or a driverless wheeled vehicle.

US technology research company Technavio predicts that the overall market for mail sorting robots, unmanned ground vehicles and drones that deliver products to customers from warehouses or manufacturing locations will grow to USD 54,07 million by 2020. According to Technavio, the global logistics robots market is expected to reach USD 2,15 billion from 2016 to 2020, growing at a rate of over 32% during this period. These figures are helped by the falling cost for sensors and computing power required by autonomous vehicles.

Though it may seem so, not all this technology is new. For years self-driving vehicles have been operating in warehouses, factories and on dockyards, while fleets of autonomous robots have ferried medical supplies and food around hospitals.

Powered by batteries, the terrestrial carriers being used to deliver small packets are equipped with sensors and location technology to avoid collisions in the street. These types of vehicles, like self-driving cars, contain many common safety requirements, particularly to minimize risks to pedestrians and other vehicles.

Other features include the same electronic stability control, rear- and forward-view camera systems and sensor arrays to transmit data between those systems and a vehicle’s engine. They have transmission, brakes and wireless communication subsystems to communicate with a controller and other vehicles.

Rapid developments in this industry mean that the next generation of autonomous delivery vehicles will likely contain more features that are already being tested in driverless cars. These include GPS receivers to detect obstacles and dangers and detailed maps for navigation. A range of 3D vision guidance systems and electronic sensors comprising laser-surveying systems or Lidars (light detecting and ranging), could scan the road as far as 200 metres ahead of the vehicle.

Delivery robot vehicles delivering mail or food items which can interact with customers using a smartphone app are being trialed in Europe, the US and Australia.

Once issues such as uneven footpaths and theft are resolved, this type of delivery could reduce time and cost as well as being cleaner than, for example, a dispatcher on a small motorcycle who brings the pizza to the door. Same day deliveries may become possible if drones are used.

Cleaning up the murky waterways

Like other transport industries, shipping must also consider the environment and make its operations and infrastructure as green as possible. While electric propulsion has been used on waterways since the 1880s, it was overtaken by more efficient internal combustion engines in the early 20th century. Today, it is making a comeback, thanks to advances in technology and proving to be much cleaner than other sources.

New batteries aboard water transport

One of the greatest challenges of going green for shipping has been ensuring reliable power supplies, both in terms of plug-in charging systems for moored ships, as well as the range and recharging times for battery-powered vessels.

Swedish Echandia Marine makes the case for using electricity only, to drastically reduce operating costs. It bases its estimates on the relative costs of diesel and electricity in a number of European countries. It cites an energy efficiency of 85-90% for fully electric ferries against 30-35% efficiency for a diesel engine. Advanced batteries, innovative charging systems, the cost of diesel and maintenance versus the cost of electric ferry maintenance contribute to this argument. Electric ferries also reduce carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particle matter emissions to zero.

The Movitz ferry uses super-advanced batteries with different chemistries, such as nickel metal hydride (NiMH) 180 kWh and advanced charging systems. These enable charging in 10 minutes and last for one hour. When inductive charging is introduced, the recharge time could take as little as two to three minutes.

Many components of boats are covered by the work of a number of IEC TCs including batteries, electric cables for ships and mobile fixed offshore units, rotating machinery used in electric motors, lamps and related equipment, and solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems. IEC International Standards also comprise general performance and safety aspects, and specifically for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

A number of IEC TCs and SCs develop International Standards which are helping to revive electric propulsion. The worldwide adoption of IEC/ISO/IEEE 80005-1:2012, Utility connections in port – Part 1: High Voltage Shore Connection (HVSC) Systems – General requirements, is one example. This International Standard was a collaboration between IEC TC 18: Electrical installations of ships and mobile and fixed offshore units, IEC SC 23H: Industrial plugs and socket-outlets, together with ISO/TC 8/SC 3: Piping and machinery, an SC of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) ISO/TC 8: Ships and marine technology, and the IAS Petroleum and Chemical Industry Committee (PCIC) of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Gallery
Starship delivery robot The new delivery man (Photo: Starship Technologies)
Ampere electric ferry Ampere, the world's first electric ferry, operating in Norway since 2015 (Photo: Siemens Press)
Connected_car_infrastructure Communication between cars and/or with traffic signals (Photo: www.automotiveit.com)