Self driving trucks increases risk of potential food and other consumables shortages

March 23, 2019 by
Filed under: General News 

As technological advances in the automotive industry bring us closer to the fully self driving vehicle on the roads, Governments would be wise to consider lessons learned from the airline industry. Business analysts should help advise our business partners on mitigating the risks.

Recent issue with Boeing 737 Max 8 highlights how a perceived software problem can kill people and cause a fleet of planes to be grounded from use. From a business perspective, airlines were lucky that they had other types of planes to use while the problem is worked on. Still, this was a tragedy that we all wish had not happened. We should use it as a reminder on being sure to understand the risks of any software we work on.

If we jump forward into the future where the delivery trucks on the road are all self driving. What will we do then if the self driving software is found to be flawed or hacked and requires trucks to be taken off the road? It might be days or weeks before the fleet can get operational again. This would leave food rotting in warehouses and docks as it was unable to be delivered to its final destination. This could lead to mass panic and civil unrest.

As a forewarning of the impact we might see, the cyber attacks of 2017 showed how information systems that organize the flow of goods were impacted. Shipping containers were unable to be moved to their destinations as the data required to manage the containers was unavailable. This lead to some temporary food shortages.

Self driving trucks, however take us into the world that actual physical transport is also at risk of being disabled. Even if we had a physical piece of paper showing us all the destination information for a shipping container, we would not have the means to move it. No manual work around. To avoid this risk, it would be good if self driving trucks at least have the following features:

  • Ability to disconnect the Self Driving brain from the truck.
  • Mechanisms to allow humans to control the truck directly in a manual form.
  • Retain physical security that allows authorized humans to manually drive and don’t rely on software security that may fail and prevent manual override.
  • Multiple vendors, with the theory that they won’t all fail at the same time.

If we want to look at history to see a previous example of when vehicles ground to a halt and how the problem was handled for the future, we can look at the Opec Oil embargo of 1973. Restriction of oil being sent to USA meant that fuel was hard to come by bringing traffic partially to a halt. Long term solution to avoid this problem in the future was for USA to keep its own strategic reserve of oil. One could argue for the need to keep sets of manually driven trucks on standby, spread throughout the country as a similar workaround.

As business analysts we should encourage our clients / business partners to weigh up the risk of their investments in new technology and help them to consider back up solutions at the same time. The old idiom of “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” might be wise as software continues to replace even more manual processes. In some places it may be better to have multiple different solutions so that there is an alternative should one fail. Having a variety of planes has allowed the airlines to keep flying.

The more our technology solutions integrate with the infrastructure of the society we live in, the more need there is for a back up solution should a piece of technology fail. As business analysts we should not forget this.

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