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Volvo Unveils a Autonomous Electric Truck With No Cab

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【Summary】While much of the automotive industry is focused on driverless cars, a handful of companies are developing autonomous or battery-powered trucks. Sweden's Volvo is the first to combine both technologies in a radical new design.The company showed off a new self-driving electric truck on Wednesday–with no cab.

Eric Walz    Sep 13, 2018 3:34 PM PT
Volvo Unveils a Autonomous Electric Truck With No Cab
author: Eric Walz   

While much of the automotive industry is focused on driverless cars, a handful of companies are developing autonomous or battery-powered trucks. Sweden's Volvo is the first to combine both technologies in a radical new design.

The company showed off a new self-driving electric truck on Wednesday, which it said should help support the rapid growth of ecommerce and a industry-wide shortage of truck drivers. The truck has no driver's cab and resembles a giant EV battery with wheels.

Volvo said the truck was still under development and declined to say when it would be available commercially. It expects the truck to be deployed first in places like ports and large distribution centers and not on public roads.

"We believe there will be a driver behind the steering wheel for the foreseeable future, but we will pretty soon see self-drive commercial vehicles in confined areas," Lars Stenqvist, Volvo chief technology officer, told a conference in Berlin.

Trucking is viewed by transport experts as a natural application for self-driving technology because of the relative predictability of highways compared with busy city streets. Several startups are working on autonomous long haul trucks including California-based companies TuSimple and Embark.

Volvo calls its new truck Vera, and says its capable of pulling loads weighing up to 32 tons. In addition, the truck has a traditional hookups and can attach to any standard trailer, said Michael Karlsson, head of autonomous solutions at Volvo Trucks, after the unveiling.

"Vera means faith and we have faith in the future," Karlsson said, adding the vehicle has a lower operating speed than a normal truck for safety reasons.

volvo vera 2.jpg

The Vera truck attaches to any standard trailer

For fleet operators, electric trucks can equate to massive costs savings as well as improving efficiency. Besides being equipped with all of the necessary sensors for self-driving, truck is monitored via a central transport control hub. Via the control hub, a user can locate the truck's current position within centimetres, monitor what is happening on the road.

The transport control hub can monitor the truck in real-time, and keep an accurate watch of each vehicle's position, the battery level, load content, service requirements and a number of other parameters. Speed and progress can be tailored to avoid unnecessary wait times and to increase efficiency.

Volvo Trucks envisages multiple Veras operating at the same site.

Resistence From Truck Drivers

Although Volvo believes that human operated trucks will be around for the foreseeable future, truck drivers see autonomous driving trucks as a threat to their livelihood.

The 1.4-million member International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, which represents truck drivers, is campaigning against new U.S. rules to speed the deployment of self-driving trucks, warning that it could mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and make roads less safe.

However, trucking firms in many countries are finding it harder to attract and retain drivers amid tight labor markets.

Proponents of the technology say autonomous trucks outfitted with 360 degree cameras, lidar and automatic braking are much safer than human drivers. Driverless trucks can also operate without taking mandatory rest stops, which are required to prevent fatigue. In the U.S., truck driver cannot work more than 14 hours per day.

Karlsson said the truck would allow places like ports that are currently dependent on daytime working hours to run 24 hours per day, optimizing the flows of goods and potentially cutting down on stockpiles and increasing productivity. He expects autonomous technology to increase the need for skilled drivers, while cutting down on the need for people to perform repetitive tasks.

New technologies which have been disrupting the traditional auto industry are also affecting the truck and heavy equipment industry, as electric carmaker Tesla Inc is expanding into electric trucks, announcing last year it planned to start producing it own heavy-duty model by 2019.

Other companies like Uber, said they are stopping the development of self-driving trucks and instead will focus on autonomous vehicle technology for passenger cars.

Volvo, whose largest shareholder is China's Geely Holding, and truck industry rivals Daimler and Volkswagen are benefiting from robust demand for commercial vehicles.

Volvo is world's second largest truck maker behind Daimler.

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