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The Exclusive Magazine for the Building Service Contracting Industry Since 1981

The Self-Driving Car

Written by  Michael Wilson

Car Clouds

THE FUTURE OF AUTOMATED AUTOMOBILES IN THE BSC ARENA

We all know the janitorial industry is getting much more high-tech. At recent cleaning tradeshows, we have seen examples of floor scrubbers that remembered where and how to scrub floors in certain areas of a facility – no driver needed.

For distributors, there were examples of dashboard systems that allowed them and their clients (including cleaning contractors) to make more effective product-buying decisions by allowing for a close comparison of products. Additionally, a variety of janitorial software systems are now available to help contractors with everything from bidding to quality control to boosting worker productivity.

So what’s next? Well, we’ve heard about them quite a bit in the news so it’s fair to ask: Will self-driving cars be used in the janitorial industry?

According to a June 2016 study by BI Intelligence, a research organization, by 2020, there will be at least 10 million selfdriving – also known as autonomous driving – cars on U.S. highways. Its more than likely that some of these 10 million vehicles will find their way into the janitorial industry.

It is believed that, at least initially, manufacturers and distributors might be the first segments of the professional cleaning industry to employ self-driving vehicles. Already, many are being used by professional truck drivers and trucking companies to pick up equipment from a manufacturer, for instance, and deliver it to a distributor or central distribution point. In time, it is likely distributors will also have their own “around town” fleet of autonomous vehicles.

If we can expect them to make headway into the professional cleaning industry, maybe we should all learn a bit more about these vehicles. Thinking about them conjurers-up thoughts of some multi-wheel big rig speeding down the highway at 70 miles per hour with no one on board. As we shall see, that probably will not be the case – at least for now.

The following are some of the most common questions asked regarding self-driving vehicles. The answers to these questions should provide more insight into self-driving technology and its possible impact on the professional cleaning industry.

IS A DRIVER STILL NEEDED IN A SELF-DRIVING VEHICLE?

Yes, a driver will still be required. We should look at selfdriving technology as a form of “power assist.” It brings more automation to driving, helps drivers avoid human errors and can moderate acceleration and deceleration, which should contribute to reducing fuel needs and help protect the environment. Most systems are now designed so that they notify the driver when to take control if their assistance is needed.

ARE SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES IN USE NOW?

Yes, with a driver on board. But this is primarily for delivering freight. In May 2015, Nevada allowed self-driving trucks on its highways. They are also in use in the U.K. and many parts of Europe. In April 2016, a convoy of what were called “smart trucks” left factories in Sweden and southern Germany to Rotterdam, a port city in the Netherlands. While human drivers were still on board, the trucks were guided using a system of wireless technologies, radar, GPS, sensors and cameras to achieve what is called level three autonomy.

AREN’T THERE CONCERNS SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES WILL CAUSE MORE ACCIDENTS?

Yes. Just recently CNBC conducted a poll in both the U.S. and Germany asking 1,500 people if they had reservations about riding in a self-driving vehicle: fifty-five percent said yes. The biggest concern was that they will malfunction in some way and cause an accident.

But those directly involved with self-driving technology believe just the opposite is true: the use of self-driving vehicles will result in fewer accidents. According to a report by Volvo, 90 percent of all car and truck accidents in Europe are caused, either partially or directly, by human error. In the U.S., a 2015 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation reported similar findings. These could be, according to the reports, such things as:

• Recognition errors • Decision errors

• Internal and external distractions

• Driving too fast for conditions

• Illegal maneuvers

• Misjudging the gap between vehicles on the road.

Supporters of self-driving technology say most of these accident-causing errors can be avoided with autonomous technology.

WHAT BENEFITS WILL SELFDRIVING VEHICLES BRING TO THE BUILDING SERVICE CONTRACTORS?

This is the big question that may not be answered until the technology is put into use. What is predicted to happen is that with increased safety, insurance rates may come down and workers’ compensation costs may be reduced, as well as other liability costs.

It is also believed some of the following will materialize:

• More on time arrivals. Remember, self-driving vehicles use GPS systems, which can help BSCs determine the fastest route from point A to point B

• Fuel savings. This can also help reduce greenhouse gasses as mentioned earlier.

• Help eliminate highway toll charges by pre-planning using GPS.

• Coordinate deliveries with suppliers

• Possible lower vehicle maintenance cost.

• Tracking: supervisors will have a better idea where there cleaning workers are when traveling from location to location.

WHAT’S THE LEGAL FUTURE OF SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES?

Self-driving cars and trucks are coming, no question about that. However, they may have a rocky road ahead of them.

Over the next few years, we can expect new regulations from both individual states and the federal government regarding the use of these vehicles. Among the issues federal and state governments will be grappling with are whether a driver must be present or not in the vehicle.

Additionally, most states have highway driving laws restricting how many hours a professional driver can drive before taking a break. These hours of service and driving distance laws may need to be reviewed if the vehicle is doing most of the driving. Further, some states are solidly behind the use of self-driving trucks on their roads and highways while others are vehemently opposed to them. All these issues and more will have to be ironed out.

Michael Wilson is vice president of Marketing for AFFLINK, a global leader in supply chain optimization, providing clients with innovative process such as the ELEVATE™ process as well as procurement solutions to drive efficiencies in today’s leading businesses. He can be reached thru his company website at AFFLINK.com.

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