Wednesday 12th Dec 2018 - Logistics Manager Magazine

Autonomous trucks – a people issue

The UK’s first HGV platooning trials are due to start in the next few months – the first step in a process that could result in autonomous trucks on our roads.

But there is still a lot of work to be done in persuading the public that it is safe.

Malory Davies, FCILT, Editor.

Malory Davies, FCILT, Editor.

A study by WMB Logistics highlights the fact that two people in five are scared by these technological developments.

Asked what developments concerned them the most, a quarter picked out self-driving lorries – the second highest scorer after ‘conscious machines”. Strangely, only nine per cent identified self-driving cars as an issue.

It’s also noticeable that the people most concerned by these developments tend to be older. One third of baby boomers (people born in the 1950s) were most concerned – in contrast only nine per cent of the Generation Z (born in the mid-90s onward) had any fears.

When asked what it was that scared them about conscious machines, the top responses were found to be ‘they’ll eventually have a mind of their own’ (47 per cent) and ‘they’ll end up replacing humans in work and other areas’ (29 per cent).

Clearly, these concerns need to be addressed before autonomous vehicles can be introduced.

A study by Kantar Public for the Department for Transport earlier this year highlighted the fact that attitudes can shift surprisingly quickly.

“With exposure to information about the technology and existing trials, participants came to see the technology as far closer to reality and also, to some extent, accepted claims about improved safety. Some also saw potential benefits to the technology…”

However, it warned that in contrast to electric vehicles, “scepticism about the benefits remained strong for many and the development of the technology was seen to be directed more at businesses set to benefit from productivity gains.”

Hopefully, we will start to see real results from the truck platooning trials next year. However, it would be a mistake to lose sight of the fact that the biggest challenge will be gaining public acceptance for the technology.