According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 percent of car crashes are caused by human error or poor judgment. Of the average 40,000 vehicular deaths per year, nearly 15,000 are due to speeding, distracted driving, and sleeping behind the wheel. This information would hardly come as a surprise to field service technicians who inevitably spend extensive work time in their vehicles.
Whether rushing from one client to the next or looking up information for upcoming appointments, field service technicians are not always as focused on the road as they could be. In fact, many service sector accidents occur while driving and not on site. Is it possible that autonomous vehicles could help make this aspect of field service provision safer?
It Starts With Smart Cars
Though it is unlikely that the roads will be teeming with autonomous vehicles in the next few years, cars are consistently getting smarter. And with intelligence comes improved safety.
- Smart cars can quickly assess the best routes to save time, and avoid congestion and accidents. Drivers who are not in a hurry and are not put in situations that might resort to risky driving behaviors are less likely to cause accidents.
- Smart cars have automated driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that allow them to sense their surroundings. They notify drivers if other vehicles or objects are too close or are approaching them too quickly. This gives drivers ample time to adjust their own driving to avoid collisions and fender benders. These systems can also detect drowsiness, facilitate maneuvering under obstructed driving conditions like poor weather and nighttime travel, or recognize traffic signs.
- Smart cars are able to connect to phones and apps. As this technology progresses, we can expect that field service management software will be integratable. With voice activated controls, a service technician need only mention the name of the next customer and the vehicle will automatically determine the best possible route. That is one less distraction for drivers.
Multitasking Made Easy
Once autonomous vehicles completely take over the function of driving, service technicians will be free to concentrate on any number of other tasks while on the road between clients. They could review client and device history. They could prepare themselves by reviewing manuals or training videos. In general, time spent getting from A to B can be better utilized so that service technicians can more quickly and effectively respond to customer issues when on site.
So autonomous vehicles not only have the potential to redefine safety standards in the industry, they also have the potential to generate huge savings, both in terms of resources and capital.
The Legal Questions Around Autonomous Vehicles
Despite the positive ramifications that autonomous vehicles might offer the service sector, there have been a number of concerns regarding their efficacy and security. These apprehensions should be legitimately considered before overhauling a fleet of service vehicles.
- How sensitive is too sensitive? Autonomous vehicles are programmed to notice and respond to obstructions on the road. The more sensitive a vehicle is to outside stimuli, the more likely it is to brake when encountering insignificant movements. The opposite can be said of vehicles programmed to be less sensitive. It is important to strike a balance so that vehicles are not constantly coming to a complete standstill in non-threatening situations and yet are able to properly react to pedestrians, bicycles, and other obstacles on the road.
- Geographical AND moral compasses? Autonomous vehicles in city settings might encounter situations that require split second decisions while gauging which would be the lesser of two evils. For example, a collision with a vehicle versus a collision with a baby carriage. Is this a decision we are willing to assign to a series of algorithms and code?
- Vehicular defendants? Who is responsible for autonomous vehicle accidents? The passive “driver”, the manufacturer, the programmer, the vehicle itself? Not only will we have to reconsider the legal aspects of motor vehicle accidents, but we will also have to consider new forms of auto insurance.
To summarize, there is a real disadvantage to waiting for a nearly flawless vehicle. Namely, the extensive loss of life that could be prevented by making the switch as soon as possible. With the rise of deep learning technology, the sooner driverless cars hit the road, the sooner they start learning the safest and most efficient ways to operate. This translates to 1.1 million lives saved by 2070. On the contrary, waiting another 20 years until these vehicles have been close to perfect would result in nearly half the amount of lives saved. As with so many innovations in digital transformation, it is clear that moving forward without all questions resolved might be the best solution.
Washington Post, “How safe is ‘safe enough’ to put driverless cars on the nation’s roadways?”, 10 December 2017
Technik in Bayern, “Autonome Autos in Recht und Moral”, January 2017