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Futurist: Autonomous Vehicle Recoveries

Our Futurist blog provides a platform to discuss the new opportunities that we believe will arise from future technological advances. Given a future state scenario, in this case our focus is on a world with Autonomous Vehicles as common place, we extrapolate the potential problems, barriers and new opportunities that may provide currently untapped potential.

The Scenario: Autonomous Vehicles

At the moment there is an assumption that Autonomous Vehicles will require a driver to be in the car and still in sufficient control to take action if needed. However this is a short term safety net so our scenario will move beyond this point.

As the technology matures the need for direct human involvement, knowledge and skills in driving will diminish. The passengers in an autonomous taxi cab need may not be able to drive, or not have a valid licence (assuming they would still exist) for driving in the given location. In this situation they would not be actively involved in the actual driving.

The haulage industry is another area where, over time, the need for an actual human in the vehicle will diminish and the goods transported around completely autonomously.

This is our starting scenario, a world containing fully autonomous vehicles. What happens when something goes wrong now?

The Challenge - Expect the Unexpected

Although one would hope that the increase of Autonomous Vehicles will reduce the chances of accidents, they can still occur. As will natural events such as flooding, which causes road closures.

I was recently stuck on a motorway following an accident ahead, after a few hours the Highways Agency decided to turn the trapped traffic around to get us off the road. This involved travelling the wrong way along a motorway, exiting via the entrance slip road and travelling the wrong way around a roundabout to filter the traffic off more quickly.

My satnav had apoplexy at the new route I was taking, it was breaking every rule of the road possible, but perfectly valid in the circumstances. A situation that humans could deal with comfortably.

The scenario translates into numerous emergency situations where valid rules of the road are broken to resolve a problem, this varies from going the wrong way down a one way road to being taken along a completely offroad route by police to allow traffic to continue when roads were closed! Yes, I drive quite a bit and have seen them all!

The Opportunity - A "Recoveries" Protocol or Service

What do our fully autonomous vehicles do in this situation?

The idea of a central contact point for the vehicle, or even a central agency run by companies such as The AA or RAC, assume that a mobile signal can get through. During the Motorway incident I mentioned earlier it was not possible to make a phone call out. Clearly there is a practical limit to the number of simultaneous signals that can be handled by a cell tower. And, of course, we all know there are numerous areas of poor reception that would make this impractical. A central contact point would be prone to failure.

The answer is an emergency protocol that could be initiated which would allow a human driven lead car to initiate a recovery convoy that stranded vehicles follow (fully authorised and security validated of course!). In this mode the highway code would negated in favour of recovery until the car is placed back into a regular driving location when it would be freed from its recovery convoy mode.

Autonomous vehicles are all developing separately, with no centralised common-ground, while able to deal with a wide variety of road conditions there will always be rogue scenarios to deal with. This is a call-out to motoring organisations who have an opportunity to develop a recovery protocol service working with autonomous vehicle suppliers to develop a solution to the unexpected!

What do you think?

Is this is a likely future? A probably Scenario? A valid solution? We'd love to hear more, use of forum.

The concept of finding ways to return a "rogue" item back into a standard "runner" process is one of the concepts that we cover when applying lean thinking to process problems.

The team at Wzard Innovation are available to help companies focus on strategy, insight and the "art of the possible".

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