Guest Post By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
General Motors Corporation made headlines recently when it announced it was planning to close or alter production at five auto plants in the U.S. and Canada and lay off as many as 14,000 workers.
GM is abandoning “many of its car models and [restructuring] to cut costs and focus more on autonomous and electric vehicles,” the Associated Press explained. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are dependent on Artificial Intelligence to function.
Writing in Techemergence, Daniel Faggella says defining Artificial Intelligence (AI) is difficult due to the various interpretations of what is intelligence. However, Merriam-Webster defines AI as “a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers” and as “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.”
The words “simulation” and “imitate” are critical to understanding today’s AV research and its return on investment (ROI). After all, we could be describing a robot when we talk about simulating or imitating human behavior.
However, the “robot” behind AVs consists of smart software, databases and network connections to the Internet of Things (IoT). All are meant to simulate or imitate human behavior behind the wheel of a vehicle or at the control system of a drone.
There are many advantages to autonomous vehicles. The advent of AVs will have multiple advantages. They include:
Automatic Braking and Reduction of Crashes
Several newer automobile models can automatically stop the vehicle before it strikes a parked car or the vehicle ahead that suddenly slows or stops. That is a safety feature that should be welcomed by the National Transportation Safety Board, traffic safety experts, and the police.
Driver Rest Opportunities
Fatigued drivers are prone to collisions. In an AV, the driver could doze during long commutes to and from work, drink a cup of coffee, or even read a newspaper. That driver might also check on email messages or text colleagues – if current state laws against texting while driving are changed. Currently, text messaging while driving is banned in 47 states.
AVs could join electric car models and be powered by batteries, which would eliminate the pollution caused by burning gasoline. In fact, there would be no need at all for a muffler and other fuel systems on electric driverless vehicles; another boon for the environment.
AVs could improve health. Under normal circumstances, not having to actually drive could reduce current highway stress and perhaps assist in running persistent errands. In fact, driverless vehicles are already being used to deliver food in Japan and China.
The Negatives of AVs
While AVs have their advantages, there would also be some disadvantages that would need to be overcome, for example:
Proper Safety Programming
An AV might be a safer alternative than having a human behind the wheel. But even humans who know the rules of the road still sometimes fail to stop for a school bus, a stop sign or a traffic light turning red.
AVs would have to be programmed to obey visual highway instructions and know how to distinguish among them. Until all vehicles are AV and “talk” to one another electronically, accidents will continue to occur. Also, would an AV recognize and understand the perils of black ice on a highway or standing water in the road?
Obsolete Auto Parts
A modest downside of AVs would be the loss of tangential businesses. If AVs have no mufflers, for example, then manufacturing them would be redundant. Also, if AVs are able to “talk” to one another, there would be no need to equip cars with turn signals. Automakers are already modifying vehicles, manufacturing equipment and processes for hybrid cars, all of which affect their supply chains. There would need to be considerable retooling for AVs.
Who Is Doing Research into AVs?
Across the country, research into AVs and drone technology is ongoing. The Center for Innovative Technology, the Department of Aviation and the Autonomous Systems Center of Excellence are just three of the research facilities in Virginia.
Arm is another organization advancing the science and practical use of AVs. It is a research and development organization pursuing innovative ideas that range from new ways to use the Cloud to the Internet of Things (IoT).
Uber Technologies, Inc. is patenting a host of AVs and drones to deliver goods to your home or office. For example, Uber is working to create a meal delivery service, UberEats, to send meals to users within five to 30 minutes of an online order.
Amazon is experimenting with the use of drones to deliver its hundreds of thousands of daily orders faster to your doorstep.
Advances in Robot Technology
Robots today are more autonomous than ever. According to The Wall Street Journal, robots have been developed that resemble snakes, lizards, and other animals and insects. These small robots are more than just cute toys. They are being used for disaster relief and recovery missions and are designed to work without human intervention or connection to a central control station.
A snake robot, for example, was used in a 2017 earthquake in Mexico City. The robotic snake went into the cracks and holes of a collapsed building to look for trapped victims who may still be alive.
Switzerland’s Biorobotics Laboratory has built four-legged creatures that can move on water and land. The lab has also built amphibious robots.
Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy in Pittsburgh is another leader in robotics. It is part of their STEM curriculum, where students study and research the cultural implications of using robots as well as building robots.
The University of Pennsylvania has developed a six-legged robot called RHex that appears to be useful walking on sand without getting stuck, as a truck or vehicle might.
The AV industry is affecting segments of society in ways that will improve our lifestyles, safety, and security.
Artificial intelligence has become a foundation for almost all aspects of our daily lives, whether we are working or playing.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was the program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics.