Four unconventional uses of self-driving technology


The autonomous car industry is developing apace, with new partnerships between tech firms and carmakers regularly hitting the headlines.

However, while most developers are focused on the driving part of self-driving technology, cars aren’t the only thing getting an autonomous makeover.

In fact, you might be surprised at some of the other ways in which this developing technology is being put to use.

Driverless wheelchairs

Anyone who relies on airport assistance knows that delays in getting from A to B can occur if a member of staff isn’t around to push the airport-supplied wheelchair.

Well, that could soon be a thing of the past, thanks to an autonomous wheelchair trial at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

A collaboration between Panasonic and WHILL Inc. has resulted in a self-driving wheelchair that can stop if it senses a collision could occur. Users set their destination from a smartphone, and family members and friends can even travel together in convoy, thanks to its tandem function.

A wheelchair might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about autonomous driving. But, with the number of passengers with reduced mobility at airports set to increase, it’s something that’s sure to prove popular with travellers eager to get to their gates.

Self-driving pizza deliveries

If you have fond memories of your first job as a pizza delivery guy or girl, you may want to skip to the next point. That’s because pizza delivery companies might one day do away with their drivers altogether, if recent Florida trials of ‘self-driving’ pizza delivery vehicles are anything to go by.

Domino’s Pizza is now on its second round of testing, this time focused on the customer experience of having a pizza delivered by a self-driving vehicle. And while the company’s current focus is on the human interaction with the delivery vehicle, it may not be long before your pizza delivery starts making its own way from the store to your doorstep.

A rubbish idea?

Next on the list of slightly surprising uses for autonomous driving technology, is the driverless refuse truck. Volvo has been working on a self-driving rubbish lorry that can safely reverse around corners and drive itself from one wheelie bin to the next.

As the self-driving truck manoeuvres down the street, the refuse collector is freed up to prepare the bins for collection and return them to the right property once empty.

But these trucks don’t just offer to enhance safety and efficiency. They also promise to improve refuse staff’s working conditions, with the new technology able to reduce the risk of common occupational injuries.

Self-driving slippers

Last, but by no means least, we come to perhaps the most surprising use of autonomous driving technology – the slipper that tidies itself away.

Initially created as way to demonstrate how elements of autonomous driving technology can work, Nissan has launched the ProPILOT Park Ryokan in Hakone, Japan, where the guest slippers tidy themselves away if they’re not being used.

And that’s not all. Nissan’s guest house also has cushions and tables that return to their original positions at the touch of a button. All this self-driving technology has the dual benefit of reducing the staff’s workload and entertaining the guests.

Unconventional uses of self-driving tech

As the examples show, not every effort to develop self-driving technology is focused on conventional passenger cars. Companies are investigating a number of ways in which autonomous driving tech can be adapted to help in other areas.

Of course, your slippers probably can’t tidy themselves away when you leave the house just yet. But there’s a good chance that as these experiments continue, you’ll end up using self-driving technology in one form or another – long before you trade in your car for an autonomous one.

What other uses for self-driving technology would you like to see developed?
Share your ideas in the comments below.