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Will AV Technology Completely Remove Human Drivers Any Time Soon?

A concern is being raised among actors in the autonomous vehicle industry whether striving towards removing all human control and rely completely on AI is the right way to go [1].

The market convention of developing autonomous vehicles have to a large extent been focused on achieving a technology readiness that is capable enough, putting drivers in the passenger seats and driving safely from point A to B. Millions of miles have been driven with autonomous vehicles by start-up companies and OEMs during recent years, measuring disengagement numbers (the number of times per mile that drivers need to take control) lower than once per 1000 miles for companies like Waymo, GM Cruise and Zoox.

However, due to current laws and practices, requirements still remain to have remote operators even with permissions of removing the safety drivers. Thus, many companies are instead now looking at semi-automated vehicles and how to make remote operation more efficient. For instance, Swedish electric-autonomous-vehicle company Einride is working with Ericsson and Telia to test deliveries between two warehouses in Sweden using 5G networks to provide the possibilities of accurate remote operations of their vehicles. Results show that humans need to take over via remote control in roughly 10 per cent of the tests.

One important question to address here is whether one person can monitor more than one vehicle. If not, the cost benefits of eliminating human drivers might get lost, resulting in a weaker business case for semi-automation with remote control. Einride CEO Robert Falck says that the company wants to reach a 10:1 ratio of vehicles to people, and senior vice president at Ericsson, Åsa Tamsons, has suggested a solution similar to air-traffic control towers using telecommunication network operation centres (NOC).


Personal comments

Due to legislation and the fact that current autonomous vehicles eventually encounter situations that the AI can’t handle, it seems natural to choose a successive transition from full human control to fully self-driving systems. As semi-automation and remote control become more efficient, with a higher vehicle to people ratio, it's business case becomes stronger.

Meanwhile, according to Volkswagen’s head of commercial vehicles, Thomas Sedran, it will take another five years to develop higher levels of autonomy, making the business case for fully autonomous vehicles weak. He further points to the fact that current techniques also rely on expensive sensors, processors and software, as well as ideal road conditions to operate without disengagements.


Written by Hampus Alfredsson, RISE Viktoria.



1. 2019-03-06. Self-Driving Trucks Will Always Need People.