Monday, September 26, 2016

Autonomous Trucks and Automated Home Delivered Freight Face Another Problem

The Shift in the Cab May Not be the Only One to Worry About
Shipping News Feature
AUSTRALIA – WORLDWIDE – In an interesting piece in the New York Times last week Michelle Innis pointed out one of those little known geological facts that might have a major bearing on future deliveries of freight, particularly in the light of current and future developments in sectors such as home deliveries of goods, or autonomous trucks. With these technological developments relying ever more on precise locations derived from GPS information, it appears we may have more than rogue sunspots knocking out satellite communications to worry about.

Everyone is aware nowadays that the movement of tectonic plates causes the earth’s surface to shift a bit, less well known is just how much this happens and the fact that there are ‘hot spots’, places where the movement is considerably larger than the normal slow sliding that takes place over centuries. Australia, so it seems, is the hare to the world’s tortoise, the bamboo to the globe’s oak tree, racing northward at about 7 centimetres every year whilst simultaneously wandering a little to the side.

This, coupled with the complication of continental drift has already meant four official corrections to the continents locations in the past half century, as much as 200 metres in 1994 and with another one due shortly that will register your house, whether in Perth or Brisbane, one and a half metres from where you last left it. Now 200 metres is a big deal whereas 1.5 is a lot less dramatic but, as Ms Innis points out, we are rapidly moving into new territory, in this case, quite literally.

With everything from robots to drones being touted as the next big thing for home deliveries, all such systems rely on GPS, and if that’s inaccurate a problem arises. Now while the sight of Donald the delivery drone banging its head on the neighbours wall might seem an amusing possibility, think of the 40 tonne lead truck in an autonomous ‘platoon’ guiding its troops along the wrong lane of a major route.

Photo: Outfits such as Rio Tinto operate their ore carriers at the company’s Yandicoogina and Nammuldi mine controlling the driverless trucks from an operations centre in Perth, 1,200 kilometres distant.