- Foxconn Technology Group's intent to employ driverless vehicles as people movers at its planned $10 billion campus in Racine County, Wisconsin indicates the growing interest in technology that may greatly impact future transportation, the Journal Sentinel reported last week.
- Accordingly, Foxconn asked Wisconsin officials for specially equipped roads able to support autonomous vehicles to its facilities east of I-94.
- Foxconn's request highlights some of the difficulties associated with automated vehicles — implementation of the tech will not be simple or cheap.
The fact that self-driving vehicles need imbedded road sensors for guidance has received little attention in the ongoing dialogue about automated vehicles.
Yet that's exactly what's being sought by Foxconn as part of its list of demands for locating its newest U.S. factory in Wisconsin.
"From Foxconn’s perspective, this would be a very attractive solution," said Patrick Van den Bossche, a partner at consulting firm A.T. Kearney. "It would allow them to make better commercial use of their site real estate since they wouldn’t need to provide parking on the plant site for their 13,000 planned employees."
The upgrades nearest the plant require the expansion of two-lane Braun Road to six lanes, and the widening of Highway KR from two to eight lanes by 2020.
Employees of Foxconn would park in lots west of I-94, and then be transported to Foxconn’s campus along the newly upgraded and expanded Braun Road and Highway KR.
"However, you could get the same result with a remote parking and regular shuttle buses, so the ‘driverless’ part feels a bit like a gimmick at this stage," Bossche said. "Since traffic will peak at the start of each shift and there will be less traffic during the shift, there is a need for a significant amount of fairly expensive CAV vehicles that will be in use three times per day. Unlike regular buses, you won’t be able to use them for other purposes, since CAV vehicles will need those upgraded roads."
"From an investment perspective, this is not something that a business with shareholders, like Foxconn, can easily justify," he said. "Instead, Foxconn will ask the county and/or state to pay for the technology since governments can typically stomach a longer-term investment horizon."
Other experts cite autonomous vehicles' current limits, and thus their marginal applicability.
"Foxconn’s interest in driverless vehicles is not unusual as all companies are seeking ways to remove temporary labor requirements, like commuter shuttling that has an associated high expense, and compensate for a shrinking labor pool of CDL drivers," said Sean Riley, Global Industry Director at Manufacturing, Supply Chain & Logistics at Software AG.
"What makes this interesting is that Foxconn has specifically requested driverless vehicle only lanes on a public road," Riley said. "This is a single proof point that the technology is not yet ready for mainstream adoption but will be relegated in the near term to applications like close plant or warehouse logistics or for commuter shuttling in parking lots where the stops and obstacles can be controlled a bit. AGV’s inside of factories and warehouses are not new and have been around for years but moving outside of the four walls of either poses significant challenges."