Before the autonomous driving revolution gives all of us robot chauffeurs, autonomous tech will change industry first. There are several transportation industries that can benefit right now, including shipping and freight. Tesla and other companies are building self-driving trucks, two Norwegian companies are building autonomous container ships, and one company in Australia , which recently completed a 60-mile run without a human driver.
Australian mining company Rio Tinto has been running trains in autonomous mode since the beginning of 2017, and as early as July, it said that around 20 percent of train runs were being completed autonomously. But all of these trains had drivers aboard as a failsafe, until now. For this most recent trip, the train completed an entire leg of the journey without a human onboard at all.
"This successful pilot run puts us firmly on track to meet our goal of operating the world's first fully-autonomous heavy haul, long distance rail network," said Rio Tinto chief executive Chris Salisbury.
While there are a few prototype autonomous train systems, and a few autonomous subways and airport shuttles, this may be the world's first fully functional driverless freight train. This success puts Rio Tinto on track not only to meet their goal of a fully autonomous train system by 2018, but to revolutionize yet another industry with autonomous tech.
Trains are in an ideal position for an autonomous revolution. Like trucks, ships, and even planes, navigation is much simpler than for a car driving in a city, which makes switching over to a driverless system much easier. Now that Rio Tinto has shown such a system is feasible, expect to see many more driverless trains in the next few years.