An autonomous truck staged for loading. Photo: Caterpillar

The future of AVs is a whirl of hype and uncertainty, but AV technology has been used in mining and construction for decades — an often overlooked point of reference.

Why it matters: Developers of passenger AVs should be working more closely with the heavy equipment industry, which has learned key lessons about developing functional, fully autonomous vehicles, and how to prepare people for the technology.

Background: Caterpillar's Autonomous Mining Trucks have moved over 1 billion tons of material and traveled nearly 22 million miles since they were first demonstrated in 1985, with zero safety incidents.

  • The trucks improved efficiency and productivity by 14%, mostly in highly repetitive work.
  • They also removed human drivers from potentially dangerous assignments, which improved overall mining safety as well.

Komatsu, similarly, has used autonomous mining trucks for nearly as long, and recently surpassed 2 billion tons of material hauled autonomously.

Between the lines: Ironically, Caterpillar's success with autonomous mining trucks owes less to technology than to people. In general, a mine is a highly structured place, where people follow strict safety protocols. Anyone who might interact with the trucks was educated on how to operate safely alongside them.

  • Passenger AV companies cannot feasibly train all people who might come into contact with AVs. But they can provide educational materials on their websites, and work with city and state governments to offer free public education programs and to integrate AV safety into driver's ed.

Meanwhile, the technology being developed for passenger AVs, from navigation algorithms to sensors and simulation tools, is more advanced than what is currently used in mining and construction. Some of that technology could be used to develop new industrial AVs for use in warehouses, airports or shipping yards, places with more complex variables and obstacles.

The bottom line: Mining and construction have used AVs for decades without safety issues, and though passenger AV technology has much to offer industrial AVs, there are lessons that can be shared in both directions.

Bibhrajit Halder is the CEO of an early-stage AV startup and has worked on autonomous vehicles at Ford, Caterpillar and Apple. He is also a member of GLG, a platform connecting businesses with industry experts.

Go deeper

Updated 50 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:15 p.m. ET: 21,261,598 — Total deaths: 767,054— Total recoveries: 13,284,647Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12:15 p.m. ET: 5,324,930 — Total deaths: 168,703 — Total recoveries: 1,796,326 — Total tests: 65,676,624Map.
  3. Health: The coronavirus-connected heart ailment that could lead to sudden death in athletes — Patients grow more open with their health data during pandemic.
  4. States: New York to reopen gyms, bowling alleys, museums.
  5. Business: How small businesses got stiffed — Unemployment starts moving in the right direction.
  6. Politics: Biden signals fall strategy with new ads.

Kamala Harris and the political rise of America's Indian community

Vice presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

When Democrats next week formally nominate the daughter of an Indian immigrant to be vice president, it'll be perhaps the biggest leap yet in the Indian American community's rapid ascent into a powerful political force.

Why it matters: Indian Americans are one of the fastest-growing, wealthiest and most educated demographic groups in the U.S. Politicians work harder every year to woo them. And in Kamala Harris, they'll be represented in a major-party presidential campaign for the first time.

6 hours ago - Health

The cardiac threat coronavirus poses to athletes

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Cardiologists are increasingly concerned that coronavirus infections could cause heart complications that lead to sudden cardiac death in athletes.

Why it matters: Even if just a tiny percentage of COVID-19 cases lead to major cardiac conditions, the sheer scope of the pandemic raises the risk for those who regularly conduct the toughest physical activity — including amateurs who might be less aware of the danger.