Autonomous Trucking Startup Locomation & ZF to Jointly Develop Electric Steering Systems That Support Automated Highway Driving
【Summary】Pittsburgh-based autonomous trucking startup Locomation announced a new partnership with German automotive component supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG (“ZF”) on the further development of an advanced electronic steering system to enhance the safety of self-driving Class-8 trucks. ZF's ReAX steering system supports Level 4 autonomous driving.
Pittsburgh-based autonomous trucking startup Locomation announced a new partnership with German automotive component supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG ("ZF") on the development of an advanced electronic steering system to enhance the safety of self-driving Class-8 trucks.
Under the terms of the agreement, which was announced on Thursday, ZF and Locomation will collaborate to develop and test ZF's "ReAX'' steering systems in real-world conditions.
The ReAX steering system supports Level 4 autonomous driving, while minimizing energy consumption, weight and system complexity. It integrates electronic technology with fully redundant hardware, which is critical for the safe deployment of autonomous trucks. The redundant hardware ensures that a system functions correctly and maintains safe operations at all times by detecting and managing faults.
"We're excited to work with ZF, which brings its expertise from the automotive sector to commercial vehicles, and it's a great opportunity to drive the safest deployment of Locomation's autonomous trucking product portfolio," said Dr. Çetin Meriçli, Locomation's co-founder and CEO. "Safety is the bedrock of every phase in our deployment of autonomous truck technology services."
ZF is one of the world's largest automotive component suppliers. The company unveiled its ReAX electronic steering system for trucks in 2015. It uses an electric motor that's mounted to a conventional hydraulic power steering unit in the trucks. It was originally intended to help drivers steer a truck at lower speeds, providing some additional electrical assist to a truck's hydraulic steering system.
Although the ReAX unit was originally designed as a steering assist device, the two companies found that it can also be used as part of an autonomous driving stack to control steering. It can keep a truck centered in lane when combined with a comprehensive suite of vehicle sensors and hardware for autonomous driving developed by Locomation.
The ReAX incorporates electronic controls allowing for inputs from cameras, radar, and other vehicle data to control steering and enhance safety.
ZF's ReAX electric steering system (ESS) paves the way for the deployment of autonomous trucks.
Locomation was founded in 2018 by veterans of Carnegie Mellon's renowned National Robotics Engineering Center. The team includes some of the world's foremost experts in robotics technology, artificial intelligence, trucking, freight optimization and safety.
Locomation says it plans to "re-engineer the world's supply chain for autonomy", starting with a portfolio of autonomous truck technology, each equipped with ZF's L4 ReAX electronic steering system.
Rather than developing an autonomous truck platform that's designed to operate each truck independently, Locomation is a developer of "truck platooning technology." The company calls it an Autonomous Relay Convoy (ARC), which uses two-trucks, a lead truck and a follower truck, along with two drivers. Both trucks are equipped with Locomation's autonomous driving system and are "electronically tethered", so they move together down the road.
The lead truck is operated by a human driver, while the follower truck moves in tandem. This way, the second driver can rest off the clock in the follower truck while it's operating in autonomous mode. When its time for the lead truck operator to take a break, the two drivers switch places.
Locomation claims to be the world's first trucking technology platform to combine AI-powered autonomy with driver augmentation, which assists the driver in the lead truck.
"We are pleased to collaborate with Locomation on its phased approach to developing autonomous trucking technology," explained Julien Plenchette, Vice President, Americas, Commercial Vehicle Division, ZF Group. "Locomation's unique and practical approach with initial human-guidance offers an opportunity to get to market earlier, which provides ZF with real-world data in order to enhance our technology."
Autonomous truck technology for freight delivery, which is also being developed by other leading companies, including TuSimple, Aurora and Waymo, can also help address an industry-wide shortage of drivers and the technology may be deployed well before self-driving passenger vehicles.
Demand for freight trucking is expected to grow 36% between 2020 and 2030, according to a 2018 report from McKinsey & Company. As demand increases, which is also a result of the proliferation of e-commerce, the driver shortages will only get worse, according to Locomation.
From an engineering standpoint, developing an autonomous driving system for trucks traveling on highways is much less challenging than one for self-driving passenger vehicles for navigating in dense urban areas and roads crowded with pedestrians, bicyclists and other vehicles.
Locomation believes that this autonomous truck platooning solution is the logical next step before fully driverless trucks are operational on highways. The technology has the potential to cut labor costs by 50% in the trucking industry, which can help reduce the costs of shipping goods. Autonomous trucks also use roughly 8% less fuel, which offers significant savings opportunities for shippers.
Locomation is aiming to deploy its first Autonomous Relay Convoy in late 2022, starting with trucking firm Wilson Logistics and following with PGT Trucking to fulfill the contracts for a total of 2,120 trucks between the two companies.
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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