A discussion about the evolution and use of automated vehicles (AVs) in warehouses and other industrial settings, with two attorneys in the Automated and Connected Vehicles Group of O’Melveny & Myers LLP: partner and group leader Melody Drummond Hansen, and counsel Jason Orr.
Multiple industrial environments are ripe for the introduction of AVs, says Orr. They are especially well-suited to locations harboring hazardous materials, which pose health and safety risks to humans. Hansen adds that the technology is proving to be of high value in logistics roles in warehouses, ports and distribution yards.
Orr says the units can play a role in reducing workplace accidents, by minimizing the presence of people in dangerous areas. AVs also carry substantial environmental benefits, given that many are powered by electricity.
The downside of AVs comes not from questions about the effectiveness of the technology, but human acceptance of it, says Hansen. Some parts of the country, especially less populated areas, are still unfamiliar with AVs, so “getting the public up to speed can be a challenge.” In addition, the technology elicits concern about its impact on human employment, despite the possibility that AVs “create more, higher-quality jobs that may offset any potential losses.”
Driverless vehicles naturally raise questions about worker safety, but Orr says industrial-robot technology has made big strides in that direction. Modern-day AVs are equipped with sophisticated controls that prevent them from harming people. Collaborative robots, or cobots, which work side-by-side with human workers, are becoming an increasingly common sight in warehouse settings.
In any case, Hansen says, there are fewer technical challenges involved in training an AV to operate within a controlled space such as a warehouse than in deploying self-driving cars and trucks on public streets and highways.
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