Can Autonomous Vehicles be a part of Fleet?

24th July 2023

Autonomous vehicles are on the cusp of changing the world. Soon, everyday vehicles in our towns and cities will be able to drive and run themselves, drastically changing how both citizens and businesses travel.

The possibilities of automated vehicles are endless. Mundane tasks like shopping, travel, and deliveries could be fully automated, freeing up your time to do more of what you love. While current ‘self-drive’ vehicles still require people behind the wheel, Elon Musk recently said ‘I think we are very close to achieving full self-driving without human supervision.’

As self-driving technology continues to advance, organisations around the globe are assessing the potential implications of integrating autonomous vehicles into their commercial fleets. In this insight piece, I will delve into the impact autonomous vehicles will have on fleet management, exploring both the benefits and challenges that arise when adopting this transformative technology.

What are the benefits of autonomous vehicles in fleet management?

Improved safety: Autonomous vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce accidents caused by human error. With advanced sensors and real-time data analysis, self-driving vehicles can make split-second decisions and respond to road conditions, enhancing overall safety for other drivers and pedestrians.

Increased efficiency: Self-driving vehicles can optimize routes, minimize idle time, and reduce fuel consumption, resulting in improved operational efficiency. Autonomous Fleets will also be able to work with minimal supervision, leading to enhanced productivity and cost savings.

Enhanced fleet utilisation: A parked vehicle is an underutilised asset. Autonomous vehicles can operate around the clock, whereas traditional fleets have driving-time limits and drivers require tiredness and comfort breaks. By continually operating, organisations can maximize their fleet utilisation and minimize downtime. This could create increased revenue by making more deliveries or minimise costs by shortening delivery times.

Challenges and Considerations when implementing Autonomous Vehicles

Rules and regulations: As autonomous vehicles become more prevalent, regulatory and legal frameworks must evolve to ensure safety standards. Fleet managers must stay updated on these evolving regulations to ensure a smooth integration of self-driving vehicles into their operations. This means organisations may need to invest in regular training throughout the transition into autonomous fleets to stay up to date with new regulations.

Technological limitations: Despite rapid advancements, autonomous vehicles still have a way to go! Harsh weather, complex urban environments, and unpredictable drivers pose huge challenges self-driving vehicles. Organisations must carefully assess the capabilities and limitations of autonomous technology before incorporating it into their fleets.

Workforce adaptation: Organisations should consider how driverless vehicles will impact their workforce. There may be changes to job responsibilities, and potential workforce reassignment. Furthermore, it’s important to make sure drivers and other team members are supportive of the new vehicles.

Security and cyber threats: On average, over 4000 cyber attacks are successful every day in the UK. These attacks could also affect driverless cars. If attacked, owners could be locked in or out of the vehicle or sensors could be corrupted, causing accidents. If their systems are hacked, organisations could be held at ransom, with criminals demanding huge sums of money. Because of these high risks, organisations need to ensure their systems and vehicles are impervious to cyber-attacks. Furthermore, hacked autonomous vehicles could be weaponised and cause a threat to national security. This could be through causing accidents directly, compromising emergency response, or halting critical infrastructure.

Public trust: This is new and unknown technology so, naturally, customers and citizens are still wary of driverless vehicles on the roads. This distrust is amplified by media and news sources amplifying stories of crashes and accidents involving this technology. As the tech develops, it is important that the public are educated on reassured on the safety measures that are made.

Driver behaviour: It will be a long time until all vehicles are driverless. Greater caution needs to be had while autonomous vehicles are sharing the roads with traditional drivers. Drivers can be unpredictable or can break the rules of the road. This can clash with the by-the-books running of self-driven vehicles.

Mixed assets: The world will not go fully autonomous overnight. In a similar fashion to the implementation of electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles will be gradually phased in over several years and decades. In theory, autonomous vehicles should work their best when surrounded by other autonomous vehicles – they will all be able to communicate with each other. Human drivers however are unpredictable and traditional vehicles may not be connected to the automated systems. Organisations will need to put in extra effort to ensure that human-driven vehicles are not operating in a way that autonomous vehicles cannot predict.

Considerations for Fleet Managers

Data Security and Connectivity: Autonomous vehicles generate vast amounts of data, including real-time vehicle diagnostics, sensor data, and location information. Fleet managers must ensure robust data security protocols and establish reliable connectivity infrastructure to effectively manage this data. It’s important that this data isn’t ignored - this data should also be analysed and used to comprehensively optimise the fleet.

Collaborative approach: Collaboration with vehicle manufacturers, technology providers, and government agencies can help improve the transition to autonomous vehicles. Fleet managers should actively engage conversations and share knowledge with the wider fleet and automation world to stay informed about the latest advancements, industry trends, and best practices.

Infrastructure development: Smart motorways manage traffic to optimise the flow of traffic, minimising the impact on the environment and controlling the flow of traffic. To maximise the transition to autonomous roads, all of our roads will need to further adapt and develop at a rapid pace.

The future of autonomous vehicles

The rise of autonomous vehicles presents a transformative shift in the fleet management industry, bringing forth both opportunities and challenges. While these vehicles will bring the benefits of improved safety, increased efficiency, and enhanced fleet utilization, fleet managers must navigate the regulatory landscape, technological limitations, and workforce management considerations. By carefully evaluating these factors and fostering collaborations, fleet managers can effectively harness the potential of autonomous vehicles and shape the future of fleet management in a rapidly changing landscape.

Bryony Davis, Product Manager, Civica Transport