Sunday, August 16, 2015

Impact of autonomous commercial vehicles

Image of video from University of Kaiserslautern
In my last post, I discussed an article on the Factor website that predicated a number of businesses that would be developed due to driverless cars. These businesses would, of course, have an impact on the economy and on society.

Another article from that website looks specifically at the impact of autonomous commercial vehicles - the article says that they will "disrupt our jobs, public services and lives ... and there's nothing we can do to stop them."

That sounds rather ominous, although the article does not predict a doomsday scenario. The article further states that these commercial vehicles "have the potential to disrupt our daily lives and we should start to plan for their impact."

Link to article:

The article also has a link to a video (1:13) from the University of Kaiserslautern, which has a team working on autonomous commercial vehicles.

Students could first brainstorm the ways in which autonomous commercial vehicles will "disrupt our jobs, public services and lives," and then could consider how we "should start to plan for their impact."

In particular, students could think of the different industries where these kinds of vehicles are likely to have the most impact.

The article refers to these industries:
  • garbage trucks
  • construction diggers
  • delivery trucks
  • work by public authorities
  • work on construction sites
  • taxi services (such as Uber)
  • robot builders
  • mining industry
  • agriculture vehicles
  • modern tractors
  • mobile bucket excavators
  • landscaping tasks
  • all types of trucks
After brainstorming, students can see how many of these they thought of, and which other ideas they had that are not mentioned in the article.

Since a number of predictions are made about which industries will be impacted, and what the vehicles will be doing, there are many useful collocations of what machines do. For example:
  • a garbage truck drives down the road and picks up trash
  • a digger creates a trench
  • a truck pulls into its stop to make a delivery
  • a robot builder lays up to 1,000 bricks
  • an 18-ton excavator performs landscaping tasks
  • an excavator loads a truck

The article is about various possible future impacts, so there are many examples of hedging, uncertainty, and conditionals. Students could focus on these to see how they are used when the writer/speaker is only suggesting a possibility, rather than stating a certainty.

Some examples:
  • Self-driving cars could be on our roads within 10 years
  • ..., but in most cases they're a long way from being used
  • Such a machine may not be fully autonomous
  • ..., but you could reduce the people who work with such machines
  • ... and if something goes really wrong
  • ... robot arms which perhaps catch the garbage
  • ... if Elon Musk's Tesla can produce 500,000 self-driving cars by 2020
  • ... it's highly likely that commercial vehicles will become ...
  • ..., although Berns warns that "it's not so easy to transfer."
  • ... there are many small, incremental steps that need to be overcome before ...

In discussing the various future possibilities of  autonomous commercial vehicles, the article presents a number of advantages and disadvantages (which students can also brainstorm). Some of the possibilities presented could be either an advantage or a disadvantage - it would be interesting to see how students would classify them.

For example, these vehicles would:
  • reduce the number of people who work
  • allow machines to control themselves
  • increase efficiency
  • be more capable
  • reduce accidents
  • react inconsistently in different environments

A final language point of the article is the number of useful linking/transition words, including:
  • while
  • but
  • yet
  • if
  • because
  • like
  • although
  • as well as
  • then
  • whether
  • meanwhile
  • despite
  • in large part
  • similar to
  • for example
  • as
  • particularly
  • even
  • in part
  • to this end
  • in other words
  • so far
  • unlike
  • so
  • even if
  • for instance

Within the article there is a reference to a BBC news article (Autonomous trucks: Daimler seeks licence for road tests), which is short (298 words) and very simply written.

The BBC article:

All in all, not only is this article useful for brainstorming and discussion, but there are many useful language points to make students aware of. In addition, it can be used in tandem with the article about autonomous cars to generate ideas and discussion about future impacts of these vehicles on society, economy, business and technology.

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