Experts predict autonomous vehicles will save money and lives but drivers say human knowledge and experience are irreplaceable
Frank Black has a simple message for those who predict truckies like him are done for thanks to the arrival of self-driving vehicles: good luck getting tech support in the outback.
For more than 30 years the Brisbane truck driver has hauled goods across the vast expanses of Australia, keeping watch for fast-bouncing kangaroos, felled eucalyptus trees, and other natural obstacles littering remote highways that can run for thousands of kilometres without a single bend.
Morgan Stanley might have forecast that freight operators could save $168bn a year by replacing humans with vehicles that drive themselves with no need for toilet breaks or sleep, and Uber last year may have bought an automated truck firm with the intention to roll out a global service, but Black remains at ease with his job security.
He predicts any freight companies that go down that road in Australia will find their expensive automated vehicles stuck out in the middle of nowhere, awkwardly parked in front of an obstacle that requires human ingenuity to work around.
“The conditions of the road out there, you’ve got to have your wits about you,” he says. “An automated truck would probably have a hissy fit, where a human would realise, ‘OK, I might have to detour off-road into the gully to get around it.’
“Truckies can use their sense of smell, too. If the engine starts to get hot, you can smell the coolant and go, ‘Hang on, something’s going on here,’ [and] pull over before something catastrophic happens.”
The harsh conditions faced by truckers on the job might seem to Black an argument for retaining human imagination but to proponents of automated vehicles they are a case for the opposite: machine intelligence immune to the fallibilities of drivers who routinely make deadly fatigue-related mistakes or resort to amphetamines to stay alert.
It is a theory that has been put into practice in Australia: Rio Tinto has been relying on a fleet of driverless trucks at its iron ore mines in the Pilbara for years, yielding performance improvements of 12%.
A PWC study in 2015 predicted an 80% chance that Australia’s 94,946 professional drivers of road and rail vehicles would be replaced by automation in the next two decades. The prospect has union officials extremely concerned.
The Transport Workers Union national secretary, Tony Sheldon, warns that freight operators need to be “careful not to get carried away with the Jetsons”, arguing that trucks driving themselves in a controlled environment like a mine is one thing, but that significant improvements would need to be made to the technology and to smart road infrastructure before such vehicles could zoom unattended through cities and towns.
He references Fiat Chrysler’s recall this month of 1.2m trucks owing to software vulnerability to being hacked as an example of the kind of dangers that would be exacerbated by self-driving freight.
“There is a serious question about the capacity for this technology to be hijacked by terrorism or some random lunatic,” he says.
“These aren’t washing machines we are talking about. These are machines carting thousands of litres of fuel, tens of tonnes worth of product that could plough through a house.”
The chair of the Australian Trucking Association, Geoff Crouch, concedes the transition to self-driving vehicles “won’t occur in one leap”. Instead he describes a gradual process starting with the autonomous braking technology being rolled out across the industry, and a trial this year in Western Australia of “platooning”, which would see the lead truck in a convoy control the others through vehicle-to-vehicle communication to synchronise speed and braking.
“There will be drivers in the cabs of our trucks for many years to come,” he says.
“The immediately foreseeable future of truck automation won’t involve replacing drivers anyway, and our road network requires considerable work before even current technologies become usable everywhere. In addition, truck drivers carry out a host of other essential tasks, including loading and unloading, checking vehicles and working with customers.”
Crouch says the transition will be one of the talking points at the Trucking Australia 2017 conference in Darwin in June.
Brendan Richards, a partner at the corporate restructuring firm Ferrier Hodgson, will speak there on disruptive technologies.
Richards’ talk will cover a broad range of changes he believes will impact on the freight sector by 2050.
In terms of autonomous vehicles, he predicts self-navigating drones of all shapes and forms will open up routes previously inaccessible to human drivers.
He can foresee an operating system that would run the network, optimising routes and the flow of goods through the system.
Richards also forecasts that drones will be better equipped to provide a nimbler freight service that no longer needs to move bulk goods around, as most things will be produced on-site by 3D printers that only require the delivery of raw materials.
If self-driving vehicles – whether that is lumbering autonomous trucks driving for days without rest or airborne drones zipping across the skies – do push human drivers into unemployment queues, unions want compensation.
Sheldon says the vast numbers of jobs predicted for the scrapheap because of automation require a serious rethinking of how society approaches work.
“When I was a garbo, I was replaced by vehicles that had arms,” he says. “It was hard seeing mates displaced by technology in their 30s and 40s. It was a dramatic, traumatic experience – and there were still plenty of other jobs back then.”
In the case of truckers, he suggests a licensing fee be paid by those replacing humans with self-driving vehicles, to go towards those displaced by the new technology.
It will be hard work persuading truckies like Black to relinquish the wheel, however. He is not even open to a transition period of self-driving technology working in tandem with human operators.
“There’d be no way you’d put me in a vehicle without putting me in control of it,” he says.
“Even in the case of trusting another person, I’d want to get to know them first before going great distances with them. Believe it or not, there are bad human drivers out there too. They should look at better driver training, not these driverless bloody things.”
Alive 2 Green was invited to attend the launch of the all new Mercedes C350e Plug-in Hybrid and Mercedes S500e Plug-in Hybrid at the company’s manufacturing plant in East London.
After a short presentation we were taken on a plant tour of the state of the art factory where the C-Class is built in Left hand and Right hand drive configurations for local and export markets. The C350e Plug-In Hybrid is also built here.
Following this we had the opportunity to drive both cars on the highway from East London to Port Elizabeth. The C350e Plug-in Hybrid is a further milestone to zero emission mobility and follows the S500e Plug-in Hybrid and is the first with a 4 cylinder engine. Power output is 205kw with torque of 600Nm and a certified consumption of 2.1l/100km. This fuel consumption is managed by the intelligent drive system that anticipates energy management taking into account the destination and traffic situation.
The C350e can run for 31km in all electric mode, but the “Intelligent HYBRID” system ensures the High voltage battery is always only charged enough to take advantage of recuperation opportunities provide by the route and terrain set by the on-board navigation system, which constantly gives feed back to the engine depending on the upcoming terrain, up to 7 kilometres in advance. The electric motor automatically boosts the combustion engine to discharge the battery enough to store the expected recuperation energy.
The HV battery can also be charged by plugging it into a normal wall socket at home or office.
The road to the halfway stop Oceana Lodge near Port Alfred gave us ample opportunities to check out the performance of both models in their various spec and operating modes.
Hybrid Mode: this provides optimum use of the combustion engine and electric motor.
E-Mode: this uses the electric motor only, ideal for running around town.
E-Save Mode: preserves the High-Voltage Battery for future use.
Charge: Electric operation is stopped and the combustion engine charges the HV Battery.
Another feature is Radar based recuperation. A double impulse on the haptic accelerator pedal warns the driver to take his foot off the pedal as the car in front is approaching too fast. This is done by a double vibration on the pedal. If the driver still continues to keep his foot on the accelerator a proximity warning light will appear on the instrument panel and when the driver brakes the seat belt will automatically tension holding the driver and front seat passenger in the seat. Once the driver takes his foot off the accelerator pedal the combustion engine will switch off and be disconnected from the drive train.
Both cars have a host of safety and style and comfort features expected in these state of the art cars, and are the hallmark of the Mercedes Benz marque.
The Mercedes Benz C350e costs R804 900 whilst the S500e retails for R1 875 500.
The distinction between collaborative and conventional industrial robots is their ability (or lack thereof) to work side-by-side with humans.
Part of the challenge in developing a robot that can work near its biological counterparts is establishing a system in which the robot can perceive its environment.
Cobots (short for collaborative robots) like Baxter from Rethink Robotics and theUR10 robotic arm from Universal Robots perceive their environment through proximity sensors. Cobots and their conventional predecessors are taught how to perform tasks through a controller or by being directly moved through the motions.
But what if a robot could actually see and a learn a process visually?
Madeline Gannon, a Ph.D. candidate at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture, designed a system for just that.
Quipt is an open-source software that allows a robot to perceive human motions as instructions using a motion-capture system. Optical sensors track markers made from retroreflective tape on a person’s hand or clothes to identify what target to focus on for instruction.
The robot can be ordered to follow, mirror or avoid markers. This allows engineers to have an intuitive understand of how the robot will move along with them.
Gannon developed the motion-capture system after working with industrial robots at CMU for a number of years.
“My research is really playing in the field of computer science and robotics, but the questions I’m able to ask in those specific domains is conditioned by my architectural background,” said Gannon. “It’s really a spatial answer, how to control or interact with a robot. That, in my mind, is an architectural answer to this problem.”
Golan Levin, director of the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at CMU, is one of Gannon’s doctoral thesis advisors. He thinks her work could change how people design architecture, clothing and furniture, as well as influence industrial design and the arts.
“Madeline is remarkable for the way in which she brings together an acutely sensitive design intuition with a muscular ability to develop high-performance software,” Levin said. “The kind of work she is doing could not be achieved by a collaboration between a designer and engineer; it takes a single person with a unified understanding of both.”
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network expects ‘stressed’ and ‘crisis’ outcomes between January and March in the broader Southern Africa region: “Poor households in these areas will experience livelihood protection and consumption deficits due to reduced casual labour opportunities, above average food prices, poor pasture and livestock conditions, the late start of season, and poor rainfall performance so far.”
We interviewed Professor in Food Security Sheryl Hendriks from the University of Pretoria on the possibility of a food shortage in SA, and how South Africans should be preparing for the rising cost of food.
With SA now having to import six million tonnes of maize, will it be enough to quell a potential food shortage?
At this point, we are not sure how much we will need to import. The difficulty is that our exchange rate makes imports exceptionally expensive.
The cost of local production is far lower than the cost of importing – especially when international demand and prices are high, but more so because our exchange rate has weakened so drastically.
Maize meal prices have already increased in the stores. The price of SA’s staple food will increase dramatically when we start importing as the consumer will need to cover the costs of importation. If the drought continues, we will face future shortages, making us reliant on imports in the near-term.
The current crisis affects white maize more than yellow maize. Yellow maize is used for animal feed so the white maize crisis will affect the price of mielie meal and other foods where maize is added – corn flour, baking goods, biscuits, breakfast cereals etc.
One of SA’s best options would be to turn to consuming yellow maize, as we did in the crisis in the 1980’s when we were faced with a similar crisis. One could only buy yellow maize because sanctions prevented us from importing white maize from other countries. Not many countries produce white maize in surplus except for the US, Mexico, Brazil and China. Although, using yellow maize for human consumption would exacerbate the shortage of supply of animal feed, which would affect the prices of other foods such as meat, chicken and dairy products.
For lower-income and poor consumers who consume mainly pap, the options are limited. These consumers will most likely need support from relatives or government if the price of maize meal increases substantially.
For all, avoiding debt is crucial!
Nigeria will host the 22nd edition of the Africa Senior Athletics Championships in Lagos, in 2018. An agreement to this effect was signed last weekend between the Minister of Youth and Sports, Barr Solomon Dalung, and President of the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA), Mr. Hamad Kalkaba Malboum, in the presence of the President of Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Dr. Solomon Ogba. The CAA president, Malboum, was in the country and visited Dalung, during which he announced that a High Altitude Athletics Training Centre will be established in Jos, Plateau State. A statement issued by Mrs. Nneka Ikem-Anibeze, the minister’s Special Assistant, Media, said on the occasion, Malboum stressed the need for Africans to develop their own athletes by setting up structures and facilities that will enhance and develop athletes in the continent.
“We have already set up a High Performance Training Centre in the University of Port Harcourt. We intend to set up another one in Jos for the middle and long distance runners because we have seen that we need to prepare our athletes in Africa. “When you send them to UK, in a few months they change nationality and easily become British citizens. Even their coaches don’t support our athletes because they want their own to win. So, this is why we need to set up our own facility for long and middle distance runners in Africa to develop our own athletes,” Malboum explained. In his response, the youth and sports minister, Dalung, thanked the CAA president for his passion in promoting African sports and enhancing the prospects of African youths.
“Sport is one of the strongest weapons of promoting development in Africa. The only thing that can provide gainful employment for youths and engage them is sport. With the support of the government, I have discussed with officials in South Africa that there is a need for us to strengthen the Council of Ministers meeting and begin to identify the relevant issues that will move African sports forward and also give Africa a comparative advantage to compete with other countries of the world.
“It is the absence of facilities that makes African athletes travel for training outside Africa and end up becoming citizens of countries where they trained and camped. If we must also domesticate our own talents and skills for the benefit of young Africans, then we must invest in the provision of modern sporting facilities in Africa. This will take us to the development of a functional high performance system with all the necessary equipment for the training, camping and development of African athletes,” Dalung said. A delegation from the IAAF and the CAA is expected to come for an initial inspection of the site in Jos for further recommendations and provision of facilities. The high altitude Athletics training centre when completed, will serve athletes from West Africa. Similar training centres are already located in South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Dakar and Zambia.
A new study by the World Green Building Council shows retailers how to cash in on the clear link between sustainable store design and higher sales.
Retail shop owners who include sustainable features such as natural light, greenery, and ample ventilation into their stores can expect happier staff and customers, and also higher profits, a new report by the World Green Building Council (WGBC) has found.
Launched on Monday, the industry body’s report, titled, Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Retail: The Impact of Green Buildings on People and Profit, discovered that while many retailers know that sustainable shop design and management can improve their business performance, they are slow to implement changes in their stores.
The report aimed to help retailers cash in on this missed opportunity by giving them a toolkit which they can use to quantify the value of sustainability on people’s well-being and ultimately, sales.
Terri Wills, chief executive officer, WGBC, said that drab “grey box” stores – simple rooms in enclosed malls – are a dying trend, and more companies are striving to create a better shopping environment for consumers.
The report, which was ledby the UK Green Building Council aims to “empower retailers to look within their own properties to understand and monetise how better, more sustainable physical environments can potentially drive profit”, she noted.
She added that in doing so, WGBC aims to “ultimately strengthen the business case for greener, healthier buildings”.
The report is part of WGBC’s “Better Places for People” campaign, an initiative which aims to create demand for sustainable buildings by highlighting how they improve people’s well-being and lives.
WGBC in its report noted that research has long shown that stores with more sustainable features such as greenery and natural ventilation perform better economically.
Back in 1993 for example, American retail giantWal-Mart developed a concept store in which only half of the store was day lit. It found that in those naturally lit areas, sales per square foot were significantly higher.
In 2002, the International Council of Shopping Centres found that lifestyle centres – that is, connected sets of uncovered stores with pedestrianised walkways – performed better economically than conventional malls.
To help retailers understand how these trends can boost their own performance and develop strategies to maximise sustainability and profits, the WGBC report presented a ‘Retail Metrics Framework’.
The framework lays out three sets of indicators that store owners should measure: environmental metrics such as lighting and indoor air quality; how employees and customers perceive the shop’s impact on well-being, and economic figures such as employee retention and absenteeism, as well as sales numbers.
Companies can use this framework in multiple ways, said WGBC. For example, they can identify stores which have undergone renovations and compare their financial results to understand the economic impact of refurbishment.
Or, a retail chain can tabulate the data for all its stores, and identify the correlations between shop performance, sustainability features, and customer experiences.
It is no accident that this framework begins and hinges upon better economic performance, because until that can be demonstrated, sustainability may be regarded by some as an add-on expense.
‘Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Retail: The Impact of Green Buildings on People and Profit report, World Green Building Council
WGBC piloted these ideas with some retailers, who were members of the report’s task group, prior to the report launch, and found that the system helps companies uncover new, strategically useful data. Retailers in this task group included UK chains John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, and Australian supermarket Stockland.
WGBC said its retail framework also helps integrate sustainability into the overall business strategy by showing the clear links between sustainability and a store’s profitability.
Said WGBC in its report: “It is no accident that this framework begins and hinges upon better economic performance, because until that can be demonstrated, sustainability may be regarded by some as an add-on expense”.
Emerging technologies, such as environmental sensors, mobile applications, and even tracking cell-phone signals are some tools that retailers can use to calculate the metrics outlined in the framework, noted the report. It added that as these technologies evolve, the framework will only get more accurate.
John Alker, policy and campaign director, UK GBC, noted that this report should be a “wake-up call” for retailers, and those with a stake in the retail property sector.
“They are sitting on a potential gold-mine of data, which can help cement the business case for investing in healthy, greener stores,” he added.
Sedibeng was followed by Gauteng West, the Overberg district in the Western Cape and the Cape Metropolitan area.
The Sedibeng district in Gauteng was overjoyed on Tuesday night after being named as the best performing district in the 2015 matric examinations, beating out 80 other districts for top honours.
The 2015 matric results were announced in Johannesburg by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Tuesday.
South Africa’s 2015 matric pass rate stood at 70.7 percent, a drop of five percent compared to the 75.8 percent achieved in 2014.
But for the Sedibeng district there was joy, with the office of the Executive Mayor Busisiwe Modisakeng “delighted at the exceptional results”.
Spokesperson Lebo Mofokeng said: “We thank Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi for the vision he has put out for us. Congratulations are in order for those matriculants who worked hard.”
Sedibeng was followed by Gauteng West, the Overberg district in the Western Cape and the Cape Metropolitan area.
Earlier Motshekga said: “We congratulate Sedibeng for the best district performance. I should state that in the Free State, Thabo Mofutsanyana distric led that province, Cradock led in the Eastern Cape and Vhembe district has the best result in Limpopo.”
“No district in the Western Cape performed below 80 percent,” Motshekga had also announced.
The Western Cape was the top performing province and achieved an 84.7 percent pass rate, followed by Gauteng in second place at 84.2 percent. The Free State came third with 81.6 percent.