One of the major hurdles to commercial production of autonomous vehicles is safety, and as much momentum as there is for unmanned vehicles, the tragic incident involving an autonomous Uber car served as a reminder for just how far the technology still needs to come.
The multi-million dollar question that is often asked is, ‘When will autonomous vehicles be ready for mass production?’ Perhaps not as soon as some might think. The accident this week prompted Uber to suspend unmanned vehicle testing in U.S. and Canada and will certainly shine a spotlight on the ongoing concerns about obstacle sensing and liability.
So where does autonomy go next? Is it back to the drawing board or is there even more of a sense of urgency to refine and perfect the technology? This remains to be seen, but within agriculture, there has been cautious optimism regarding the rollout of unmanned equipment.
Talking with ag engineers at the Agricultural Equipment Technology Conference last month in Louisville, the sentiment was that autonomy has the potential to be a game-changing technology.
Taylor Bybee, software engineer with Autonomous Solutions Inc., suggests the foundational technology for autonomous tractors is actually quite mature — in terms of being able to monitor what the vehicle is doing in the field.
But there is one major element still missing.
“Validation is the big question and how long that’s going to take,” Bybee says. “What features will initial systems have that will be safety critical, vs. those which will be bells and whistles?”
Proving the concept will take time and in Bybee’s estimation, we may see autonomous vehicles within the next decade. But it’s going to take farmers and dealers “several decades” before they adjust and embrace the cultural shift autonomy will require.
Hear more from my conversation with Bybee in our latest Precision Farming Dealer podcast episode.