With all the attention in the automotive industry going to electric cars and self-driving, one growing development has gone largely unnoticed. A potentially billion-dollar industry that is set to disrupt transportation as we know it — remote driving.
Most of my readers know all too well how fond I am of the remote movement. I do believe it is the next evolution of work. So, when I stumbled upon this hidden movement (cause that’s the best way to call it) I was astounded. In fact, I was rather shocked why I hadn’t heard of it before or why the idea hasn’t caught on as much.
With self-driving cars proving to be more of a challenge and some even going as far as calling it a fool’s errand, I feel that remote driving is the next logical step. All the technologies to enable it already exist; electric cars, IoT (Internet of things), stronger connectivity and a very willing workforce.
Why then hasn’t it caught on as much as it should?
For one, it might have something to do with the industry’s current insistence on self-driving automobiles. This has especially been touted by tech mogul Elon Musk and his company Tesla. Like it or not, Tesla is now the trendsetter in the automotive industry. Beginning with electric cars, the company has ‘forced’ other vehicle manufacturers, many of whom were hesitant at first, to get into the electric car frenzy. Toyota, Nissan, and Mercedes have all launched, or are planning to launch their own product lines of electric cars.
And now, with Tesla’s insistence on self-driving cars, other companies are following suit. This has been to the disadvantage of remote driving which is, in my opinion, a better and more practical solution in the industry.
Remote driving has all the advantages that self-driving touts to bring;
Most remote-driven vehicles are powered by electricity. Remote control necessitates that the systems be completely digital including the engines. It is the only way to get the fastest response times that are absolutely essential on busy highways.
More importantly, electric remote driving will also play a huge role in reducing its carbon footprint.
For all the hype surrounding the technology of self-driving cars the truth is we are at least a few decades away from completely autonomous vehicles. LADAR and the AI powering vehicle autonomy are at now, glitchy at best. As a matter of fact, as pointed out earlier some have even gone as to call it impossible. That is, without human help.
Whether this is true or not is not the issue. While engineers try to figure out the technology, remote drivers can utilize the technology we have so far to get these vehicles from point A to B without physically being in the vehicle. This will at least give it the sense of autonomy that the industry craves so much.
Moreover, it will give engineers the chance to learn from remote human drivers and create AI systems that mimic them.
Much of the criticism or the fear surrounding self-driving vehicles is the fact that it will render millions of truck drivers worldwide obsolete. There are over 2 million truck drivers in the US alone. In India, they are over 8 million. Taking these jobs away will undoubtedly have a severe impact on the global economy. No matter the positivity surrounding technology and claims that it creates more jobs than it takes away, there is simply no way of creating that many jobs in that short amount of time.
Remote driving can be the middle ground. While aligning with the modern automotive move to modern technologies such as electric engines and IoT, remote driving also preserves truck drivers’ jobs. Only now, they work from home.
And who wouldn’t want that? We know all too well the perks of working from home and my prediction is that the millions of drivers who travel millions of kilometres across their countries would relish the chance of working from home where they can also share time with friends and family.
This brings me to my next point.
As pointed out above, working conditions for truck drivers worldwide can be very physically taxing. These are people who are on the road for up to 12 hours at a time making only a few stops on the way. They have very little time for friends and family while also experiencing severe exhaustion.
Remote driving can help provide much better conditions for these workers with zero impact on their productivity. Working from home, drivers will have access to essential facilities like their own restrooms and a better ambience at home. More importantly, they will get more time with friends and family.
With all these advantages to both workers and employers, you would think that the industry would grow at a much faster pace. This is however not the case. A number of factors have held it back, least of all trends in automotive industry.
That said, remote driving is not at a complete standstill. There are a number of companies betting on its massive adoption in the near future, especially now that self-driving is proving to be almost impossible.
Swedish company, Einride which is ironically, primarily developing autonomous electric transport, became the world’s first ‘Remote Pod Operator’ last year. Officially announcing its entry into the American market, the company launched its “operational headquarters” in Austin Texas with an additional location in San Francisco.
The company set a target of at least 2,000 new jobs within the first five years of operation in the US. Recent reports however indicate that they may have already surpassed this goal. Maybe the case for remote driving may be more promising than people predicted.