The future of autonomous vehicles

The logistics sector keeps the UK moving, literally. Its fundamental role in driving the economy means that it needs to keep ahead of any market changes whether that’s policy promises, access to skilled labour or infrastructure developments.

In terms of technological advancements, the widespread use of autonomous vehicles is already making a significant impact on the industry: from warehouse inventory management through to the Co-op’s robot grocery deliveries and rapid transport systems at airports. But with Apple reportedly cancelling its plans to build self-driving electric cars, is the appetite for driverless vehicles running out of road?

Here are five key factors that will influence the future rollout of fully autonomous vehicles:

1. Technology

Autonomous vehicles are naturally reliant on the latest artificial intelligence working in tandem with the highest-specification hardware such as cameras and sensors. Our roads and public spaces are intensely complex environments and many stakeholders still need convincing that current standards of machine learning are capable of handling an almost infinite level of dynamic real-world situations. This is equally applicable to a drone delivering a parcel as to an HGV on the motorway.

Robust and reliable communication networks combined with smart infrastructure (eg intelligent traffic signals and coordinated transport systems) will be the foundation on which the vehicles rely.

2. Economics

The sums have to add up for the manufacturer and the consumer and it could be that the traditional models of purchasing and leasing individual vehicles and fleets have to be re-evaluated. A report by McKinsey states that manufacturers and may need to develop new sales and business strategies. The requisite research and technology represents a significant investment and if the traditional product becomes prohibitively expensive then, as Automotive News Europe predicts, it’s likely that future fully autonomous cars may act as a service, rather than be an asset.

3. Regulation

The UK introduced its Automated Vehicles Bill in November 2023 to “position the UK as world-leaders of this exciting £42 billion industry.” However, the legislation was clearly putting safety first: focusing on legal liabilities and protecting consumers and the public. This ranges from who is at fault if there is an accident through to the privacy and ethics involved with the vast sums of data collected and stored during a typical journey.

Even marketing collateral will need to be legally watertight especially around definitions of ‘self-driving’. Collaboration between stakeholders and government bodies across the globe will be vital to developing a fair and operable regulatory framework.

4. Safety and security

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders claims that autonomous technology is set to prevent around 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives by 2030 by reducing driver error. These benefits will need to be offset against the scale and severity of any incidents that occur when an autonomous vehicle is involved.

Critical infrastructure will need to be protected from physical and cyber sabotage, from vandalism through to more systemic threats.

5. Public support and trust

Revolutionary new technologies can often bring about structural changes within industries and sectors. And any mention of automation inevitably prompts debate around workforce skills and volumes. However, in terms of driverless vehicles, the UK is considered to be some years away from ‘Level Five’ full automation.

This shifts the focus more towards the role of the vehicle occupant – drivers may one day be able to take their eyes off the road but they still need to be ‘present’. Furthermore, the maintenance and support network around that vehicle and its role will always be overseen by humans, and they need to feel safe and comfortable as they work.

It’s clear that change is coming. And with more than 2.5 million people employed in logistics roles in the UK, we understand the impact that further rollout of autonomous vehicles could have on the sector.

We also appreciate this means resourcing and procurement strategies need to adapt too.

Our friendly and knowledgeable team have served the fast-paced logistics sector for almost 30 years and its constantly changing PPE and workwear requirements.

You can contact them on 0800 122 3323 or

Published on 18 March 2024
Filed under  News • PPE and safety workwear suppliers • PPE news 


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