- Mining company Rio Tinto successfully operated a 62-mile test run of an autonomous train, operated at a distance in far away control rooms, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
- The test was overseen from Perth, Australia, more than 700 miles from Rio Tinto's mines in Pilbara. The self-driving trains are part of the company's AutoHaul project, which seeks to create the world's first "fully autonomous heavy-haul, long-distance rail network," according to the Journal.
- The triumphant run means the project is on track to enter force in late 2018. However, the company has seen long delays in testing, due to software problems and safety concerns. The pilot still required human operators in the train in case of emergency, and regulators have yet to approve a fully autonomous rail network.
Autonomous vehicles are on the horizon, but are other forms of transport also likely to become autonomous within the next five years?
Pilotless plane technology, though alarming to passengers, is closest to development, seeing as how most planes already rely on Autopilot. Ships are currently in the testing mode, and unlikely to undertake significant journeys until 2019, as regulations considering allowing the technology have yet to be amended. A shorter journey of less than 40 miles is planned by makers of the Yara Birkeland in 2018, though again, no legislation currently supports the technology.
Freight and mining trains appear to be last on autonomous developer's minds. However, semi-barren landscapes such as those in Australia where the Rio Tinto operates are potentially ideal for such technology, since the population is low to nonexistent and errors are unlikely to impact people or dwellings.
In the U.S., however, trains often pass through or near residential or farm-heavy regions, where accidents could cause significant disruption. It's unlikely, therefore, that we'll be seeing self-running trains in the near future due to higher safety concerns, whether or not the technology exists for other countries with different conditions.