Caterpillar’s using autonomous technology for its mining vehicles currently.

Autonomous vehicles, which have already proven their worth in several industries, are poised to become more commonplace in the near term, according to a panel of experts at this year’s virtual Consumer Electronics Show.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli, director of partner product and program at Aurora, the autonomous vehicle technology company that recently acquired Uber’s self-driving vehicle Advanced Technology Group, said the pandemic has put a spotlight on the opportunities for autonomous delivery vehicles.

The move to e-commerce, which depends on delivery vehicles, has opened new opportunities for the use of autonomous vehicles. “Even with the economy getting better, there still more opportunities for e-commerce,” she noted as more consumers switch to shopping online and having their packages delivered right to their door.

(Self-driving vehicles: Who will set the rules?)

Caterpillar VP Karl Weiss said the company plans to expand its use of self-driving technology.

Aurora, while it has put more emphasis on delivery, is still interested in promoting self-driving vehicles that carry passengers. The acceptance of autonomous passenger vehicles has been slowed by the pandemic, but it will recover, she said.

Karl Weiss, Caterpillar vice president, noted his company has been involved in development ever since the now legendary DARPA Challenge more than a decade ago. Caterpillar teamed up with Carnegie-Mellon, the university that won the challenge in 2008, and has been working on autonomous vehicles ever since.

The work has been concentrated in the mining industry where the use of autonomous vehicles has steadily increased because it improves safety in a business with heavy casualty rate among workers. Zero injuries are one of the goals that autonomous vehicles may help achieve.

(Audi looks to a future of electric mobility at CES.)

Autonomous mining vehicles also improve efficiency and productivity, which can help reduce the damage to the environment.

Aurora’s Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli said the use of self-driving tech is going to grow as e-commerce continues to expand.

Caterpillar is now expanding the use autonomous technology in industries in construction and waste hauling, Weiss noted, for the same reason that AV technology is being used in mining: efficiency and productivity. Weiss noted Caterpillar has now developed and extensive robotics and autonomous vehicle engineering group.

The panel, chaired by Joann Muller, an Axios editor, also delved into more future technology, such as hyperloops.

Sara Lucian of Virgin Hyperloop noted during her seven years with the company, it has moved from “some drawings on a piece of paper” to a prototype in which she was able to ride. The hyperloop uses magnetic levitation to propel a passenger- or cargo-carrying pod through a vacuum tube.

(Hyundai may help build the long-rumored Apple iCar.)

The development of hyperloop networks, however, will require the assistance of regulators as well as governmental acceptance that she hopes the incoming Biden administration could provide to help protect the edge the U.S. now has in the development of the technology.

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