Yesterday's news that an autonomous Uber killed a woman in Arizona has dealt a blow to the companies banking on autonomous cars. Details of the accident have yet to emerge, but Uber has pulled the plug on their North American testing for now, and the litigation that's sure to follow will presumably slow the roll of other companies involved with vehicular autonomy.
However, one form of vehicular autonomy that will probably remain attractive can be seen in Colorado. Last year the Colorado Department of Transportation rolled out this monstrous vehicle:
Enter a caption (optional)
That's called the Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle, and its sole purpose is to protect road workers by providing a moving barrier between them and bypassing traffic. While you've likely never heard these statistics compiled by the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administraion, every 5.4 minutes a driver crashes into a work zone. Here are some real examples of this captured on tape:
This results in at least one injury per day and one fatality per week. It's not clear if the injuries/fatalities are suffered by the road workers or the car's occupants, but at least cars have some measure of crash protection, whereas the road worker isn't surrounded by airbags.
Enter the Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle. The massive truck lowers an impact-absorbing barrier behind it and is positioned between the workers and bypassing traffic. These types of trucks have been around for a while and are in fact what you saw in the video above, but always required a human driver to move the truck to follow the workers. For the driver assigned to that job, it's a shit detail--who wants to sit in something that's designed to be crashed into? Thus the Autonomous variant Colorado's DOT is testing is programmed to automatically trail a lead vehicle driven by a human, placing that driver out of harm's way.
Enter a caption (optional) Enter a caption (optional) Enter a caption (optional) Enter a caption (optional)
"CDOT conducted extensive testing of the AIPV's emergency stopping and obstacle detection systems," they wrote in a press release. "Testing also confirmed the vehicle's ability to stay in its lane and make tight turns."
"We are extremely excited about this new technology," said Lee Rushbrooke, CEO of Colas, the British company that built the truck, "and are looking forward to giving this a global reach to save lives of road workers across the world."
It's not the sexy vision of autonomous that starry-eyed automakers have, but if it saves human lives, it's likely to gain traction and government approval faster than robo-taxis.