As much as the Tesla stans want you to believe self driving cars are a reality, fully autonomous vehicles are still a long ways out for consumer use. Years of research still needs to go into the vehicles themselves, and legislation and infrastructure needs to adapt to driverless cars, assuming they do indeed happen. But that’s on public roads. Elsewhere, away from pesky regulations, autonomous cars are a lot closer to reality. In Australia, mining company Fortescue Metals Group have just unveiled four fully autonomous, self driving Ford Ranger pickup trucks that’ll work as parts delivery vehicles on-site.
Australia’s Chichester Hub mining region will have four on site autonomous Ford Ranger trucks taking parts to various locations. The trucks look like typical Ford Ranger work trucks, with a flat bed in back, but have been retrofitted with an integrated Lidar and Radar system that’s boosted Ford’s existing active safety systems.
The trucks are also remote control, so a monitor can take over at any time. Operators will design routes for the trucks to follow, and track them from a central control center. This is likely one of the first autonomous road-based work vehicles in history, if not the first.
The self driving Ranger trucks were developed in house by Fortescue, one of Australia’s biggest mining companies, with some assistance from Ford. Fortescue says the trucks will boost safety, productivity and efficiency while eliminating the need for repair workers to drive around 12,000 28 km (17.4 miles) round trips annually to collect equipment and parts. It’s unclear if the people who drove for these trips will lose their jobs, but we assume they will be stationed at posts while the trucks drive parts to them, hence the improved efficiency.
Still, this could paint a troubling trend for the future of people that are paid to drive. Just like these autonomous Ford Ranger pickups are removing a need for people to drive in mining scenarios, the same could one day happen for more positions, such as mail delivery drivers. Hopefully we can find a way for self driving vehicles to help both the company and the working man.
Check out the self driving Ford Ranger fleet in action with a video from our Aussie friends at Car Advice: