4th October 2017
How semi-autonomous vehicle systems are shaping fleet management strategies
During the week in which Trak Labs’ home city of Manchester hosted the Conservative Party Conference 2017 and Appy Fleet once again proudly attended Fleet Management Live at the NEC, news emerged that Jaguar Land Rover’s CEO used the firm’s Tech Fest to stress the vital need for the government to unshackle the feasibly rapid progress of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) development1.
“In this new mobility revolution, if there is not nimbleness in response, the danger of failure is too harsh to contemplate”, Mr Speth warned, before adding: “We know the levels of connectivity that will be needed in the future to allow autonomous vehicles, freeing individuals, increasing productivity, reducing accidents. We know of the 5G network the rest of the world is working upon to enable it. Where is it here?”
These pleas were made on the back of JLR revealing that its mobility revolution journey has already started, with the all-electric I-Pace SUV launching next year, the promise that all vehicles within the marques’ ranges will be electrified as soon as 2020, and by 2040 its bold Future Tyre concept and Sayer, a voice-activated AI steering wheel, could also have made their way onto vehicles obtainable by consumers and fleets.
While Oxbotica’s autonomous cars driving between London and Oxford operating at Level 4 on the autonomy scale will indeed be noticeable by the public from some point in 20182, significant automotive voices such as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers’ CEO Mitch Bainwol concede that autonomous car ‘ubiquity is not projected to occur for at least four decades3.’
Fleet managers around the UK can’t brush driverless cars aside, though, as a smorgasbord of semi-autonomous systems are already fitted to a wide array of popular vehicles, from relatively humble superminis and hatchbacks to executive and luxury saloons.
Car autonomy is technically split into six levels4, although level zero means no automation at all. Level 1 encompasses functions or ‘modes’ that can be switched on or off, from cruise control, parking and lane-keeping assistance to steering, accelerator and brake input, the driver sharing control of the vehicle. The second level of autonomy is often dubbed ‘hands off’ whereby a car is capable of controlling speed along with an additional task such as steering, for instance – an example including Tesla’s perhaps misleadingly-named Autopilot system. Level 3 is conditional in that the vehicle will be able to assess its environment and effectively drive itself, but the driver must remain alert for regaining control. Oxbotica’s previously cited vehicles work at Level 4 and require a token human to be present but effectively operate autonomously, and Level 5 unsurprisingly means full automation with zero human presence or input necessary5.
Forbes recently labelled Audi’s new A8 “the most important car in the world”6 on the basis that it’s the first production car offering Level 3 ‘hands-off and eyes-off’ automation, relegating the driver when it comes to monitoring the road and controlling the vehicle, mainly courtesy of Ingolstadt’s Traffic Jam Pilot system7.
Few company car fleet drivers will enjoy the ability to specify range-topping Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Tesla or Volvo models, but Honda’s distinctive new Civic hatchback falls within the monthly rental bands of a sizeable chunk of user-choosers and is fitted with the pioneering brand’s Sensing suite of driver assist technologies as standard8. Sensors, radars and cameras contribute to providing its drivers with intelligent speed assistance, intelligent adaptive cruise control and Honda’s collision mitigation braking system, to name but a few.
Mercedes perennially dominates contract hire orders and the latest E-Class can be specified with DRIVE PILOT, while the popular and affordable Nissan Qashqai in facelifted MY17 guise also features Level 2 automation in the form of ProPILOT9.
Fleets comprising light commercial vehicles have from June 2017 been able to order VW’s Caddy, Crafter and Transporter LCVs with autonomous emergency braking, front assist and city emergency braking as standard10, and Ford’s leading Transit van is now available with driver assist technology including pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, road sign recognition and adaptive cruise control11.
While we’ve previously written about how ADAS are turning some drivers into autonomous humans12, it’s clear that organisations with fleets also need to start adapting the way they think and plan in order to accommodate the increasing array of Level 2 and even Level 3 systems fitted to many cars and vans accessible to their staff.
Fleet management policies, often drafted in conjunction with HR departments, will need updating to reflect who is responsible for the safety of drivers, other road users and pedestrians at a time when higher levels of autonomy will start becoming mainstream relatively quickly.
Training is a key area that fleet managers can additionally consider, ensuring that the personnel under their duty of care are familiar with how semi-autonomous driver assist systems function and what to do in case exceptional circumstances arise or system failures are experienced.
Disciplinary procedures can also be addressed and documented to account for situations where a fleet driver demonstrates over-reliance on semi-autonomous functionality and fails to maintain the required human levels of alertness and safe driving practices.
Such a wealth of semi-autonomous technology being introduced to mainstream cans and vans is impacting servicing schedules and fleet downtime, identifying another area of fleet management that is changing and needs building into strategies and policies, all these measures ensuring that fleet managers remain compliant and their drivers are kept safe and legal as such systems proliferate.
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