Far away from modern conflict zones, Silicon Valley leaders such as Tesla, Google, Uber and other car manufacturers are radically changing the way we think and use self-driving technology. Google’s (now Waymo) driverless car technology has already ‘racked up’ more than two million miles of public road testing since 2009. Its prototype car has completely removed drivers from the equation, replacing the steering wheel and the pedals with tools for self-navigation. Instead of relying on human vision, a rotating rooftop camera with laser beams is used to build a 3D picture of cars, pedestrians and hazards on the road. Then, information gathered from the front camera, ultrasonic rear sensors, as well as in-built sensors for improved geospatial accuracy (combined with a GPS signal), is interpreted by the car’s computer for intelligent, fully autonomous decision-making.
As the technology is refined by competing companies the first fully autonomous self-driving car is expected to arrive on the market around 2020. Together with the ‘Smart Cities’ movement, plans to deliver a world where accidents and inefficiencies created by human error and fatigue become a thing of the past. With similar concerns around efficiency, comfort and safety, trucks are being tested to replace drivers and human error in long-haul journeys. Using self-driving trucks, Uber Freight is already delivering beverages across the USA without human input, whilst Volvo is testing the technology to innovate transport in the mining sector.
Such innovative and disruptive solutions are currently far from being designed to help those in need. Frequently, new technologies or business models emerge to match and solve economic inefficiencies and primarily to bring a profit. From blockchain, to instant messaging, unmanned aerial vehicles and internet of things, many are the solutions that show an incredible potential to innovate and disrupt the humanitarian sector. In recent years, this has been WFP’s mission: to identify and test technologies that are yet to succeed in the humanitarian sector, to harness the opportunity to redesign and scale them to improve the lives of millions of people.
Autonomous driverless trucks are amongst the most-promising answers to the issue of assistance in dangerous or inaccessible environments, as access by road tends to be the most efficient and safest option to deliver food assistance to besieged areas on land. Preliminary research into a solution that could enable the delivery of humanitarian relief, not as vulnerable to air strikes as aviation, yet resilient to ambushes and capable of handling difficult terrains, has already led to the surfacing of a series of options that WFP is keen on delving into as quickly as possible.