You might assume that there are remote forests that are still pristine and untouched by humanity. If you aren't trained as a botanist or biologist or ecologist, you might not be aware that many of these seemingly unspoiled forested lands are actually quite marred by the hands of mankind. In some areas, there is a concerted effort to reinstate the earlier status quo of those lands. This involves not only protecting what is there, but also includes doing a systematic restoration to the wilderness too. There are specialists that refer to this as wildlife reengineering.
If we've learned anything from Silicon Valley, it's to over-promise and under-deliver. And if we've learned anything else from Silicon Valley, it's that replacing humans with artificial intelligence is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Put these two tendencies together, and you get an awful lot of humans performing grunt work that tech companies previously wanted to automate away only to find they couldn't write algorithms that performed as well as any human could. The first examples that immediately jump to mind are content moderation on the major social networks, transcribing recordings from smart speakers, and Elon Musk's attempt to automate the Tesla assembly line only to admit "humans are underrated." Don't look now, but self-driving cars are a prime candidate to be the latest major "automation" technology that is performed not by a computer, but by a human you can't see.
A remote Phantom Auto operator monitors a Postmates delivery robot. The 2020s may yet be the decade of self-driving cars, but early predictions from automakers and tech developers including Tesla, Nissan, Nvidia and Ford that autonomous vehicles would be ready as soon as this year or next don't seem to be panning out. This week auto supply giant Magna ended a tech alliance with Lyft on self-driving robo-taxis owing to a slower-than-anticipated timetable. But the billions of dollars that have been poured into R&D and development of advanced sensors and computing the past few years are being leveraged for near-term applications, including delivery robots and self-driving trucks, as well as autonomous warehouse, cleaning and security bots. And as those vehicles proliferate, there's an increasing need to keep track of them, monitor their operations, provide remote guidance in some cases or even, in very limited circumstances, drive them remotely.
In the U.S. and other countries, aging populations and growing logistics demand have resulted in shortages of truck drivers. Autonomous trucks could help relieve those shortages. Einride AB today announced that it plans to hire what it called "the first autonomous and remote truck operator in the freight mobility space." The Stockholm-based company said it will hire drivers in Sweden next month, followed by the U.S. in the third quarter. The remote operators would begin commercial services in Sweden in Q3 2020 and in the U.S. in Q4 2020.
Texas A&M University is modifying its self-driving pilot program in the city of Bryan, Texas, to have humans remotely monitor and operate the shuttles starting in September, making it one of the first commercial deployments of teleoperation technology in the country. The teleoperation technology is being provided by a Portland, Oregon-based startup called Designated Driver. It will allow humans at Texas A&M to remotely control the shuttles in situations where the self-driving system may not be up to snuff, and they'll also be able to interact with passengers on board. The new functionality could help solve a problem that similarly nascent autonomous shuttle programs have run into: crashes. The low-speed autonomous shuttles currently whispering their way around a handful of downtown areas and campuses across the country are among the first real-world tests of self-driving technology.