- Toyota will convert a 60-acre Ottawa Lake, Mich. site into a test drive facility for autonomous vehicles (AVs), to "safely replicate demanding 'edge case' driving scenarios too dangerous for public roads," according to the press release. The goal is to "push the limits of our technology and move us closer to conceiving a human-driven vehicle that is incapable of causing a crash."
- The testing facility will include congested urban environments, slick surfaces and four-lane divided highway with high-speed entrance and exit ramps.
- Despite the recent fatal crash involving an Uber AV, automakers are still exploring AV technology, albeit a safer way, which means supply chain disruption is coming.
AVs are coming, there’s no doubt. But there are safety, regulatory and technology hurdles to overcome over the next several years. To begin meeting them, the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) is constructing a closed-course test facility at the Michigan Technical Resource Park in Ottawa Lake.
The Toyota research is focused on cars, but the technology can be applied to trucks. And trucks carry the vast majority of goods in the U.S. Nearly 71% of all the freight tonnage moved in the U.S. is transported by trucks, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA). It takes 3.5 million drivers to move 10.55 billion tons of freight annually, the ATA says.
There already has been a bit of a teaser into the future.
In 2016, a driverless vehicle transported more than 51,000 cans of Budweiser beer 120 miles from Fort Collins, Colo., to downtown Denver. The truck was propelled by hardware and software from Otto, a self-driving truck startup owned by Uber. A driver was on board, monitoring the system, but he never touched the wheel or a pedal while the truck was on the highway (the technology currently works best on highways when variables like pedestrians, stop signs and stoplights don’t enter the picture.)
If this becomes the norm in five to 10 years (there are numerous estimates out there), it will mean big change for supply chain. There’s already a driver shortage. Will autonomous trucks mitigate that problem? Will drivers still be subject to mandatory hours of service limits, even if they’re in the passenger seat or napping in the back while the truck zooms down the highway? What about regulatory issues? Technology moves much faster than government, so the autonomous vehicles might be ready to go while government tries to figures out how to regulate them.
So, yes, the technology will be there. But will the world be ready for it?