FutureWork podcast: A driverless transport future?

Driverless transport is on its way - but public caution means we are unlikely to be hopping into a driverless taxi or onto a driverless bus or train any time soon.

Transport experts say the adoption of autonomous vehicles is still largely limited to 'closed loops' - like airport monorails - because of the complexity of the environments in which vehicles move around.

Neale Kinnear, an expert in transport safety and behaviour, said the tens of thousands of people employed in driving jobs in Scotland shouldn't worry about being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence any time soon.

"There's still some way to go, but that's not to say the technology's not there," he said. "We're trialling autonomous trucks to deliver parcels from one hub to the next. We're doing these trials to learn, so when services come into play, they are done safely.

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“There is a lot of the transport environment at the moment that's not suitable for automated technology to fully take over in all conditions. The transport system is really complex - lots of different people, different types of vehicles and vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists. It's not sufficient for the system to only be good enough a percentage of the time - it needs to be safe at all times."

George Hazel, a transport consultant based in Scotland, said: "In complex urban situations, I think we'll see gradual, incremental change. It will happen. but you've got to gain the trust of the public and the users.”

He also sees major new job opportunities as technology takes over transport systems: "Technology will have a major impact on the way we do things and generate a whole series of employment opportunities. That will almost certainly need retraining in terms of new technologies, ticketing and how that’s managed and policed.”

Colin Ferguson, Chief Executive of route optimisation specialist The Algorithm People, sees a very different transport future - where fleets and organisations have adopted electric vehicles and alternative fuel sources, where drones deliver pharmaceuticals and takeaways - and where algorithms and AI are used to plan and schedule deliveries.

He said: "Rather than three or four people planning fleet movements for a day, that can be done in a few minutes with an algorithm. That allows those people to be deployed to provide a better value-added service to the customer and to do things more efficiently.

“I read that Elon Musk is working on a neural Link Technology, which essentially is a chip that allows you to control tasks with your own brain. I'm not sure the transport sector is quite ready for that yet, but in the future, there will definitely be a situation where we allow algorithms to do more of the manual work we have historically done ourselves.”