NZ Truck & Driver News

 

NZ Truck & Driver News

 July 2021   

There’s a new wave of activity in Europe, China and the United States in developing and testing autonomous trucks.

And don’t think that just because most photos and video of current testing clearly show humans sitting in the driver’s seat that they’ve necessarily got anything to do with controlling things. 

On many highways around the world these days they’re just there as a regulatory safety backstop...and pretty soon the artificial intelligence behind autonomous vehicles will be good enough to dispense with the human overseer, say developers.

All major truckmakers plan a driverless future for their models, with the technology generally being co-developed with specialist companies in the AI field.

The flurry of activity around trucking reflects a growing consensus that self-driving cars are still a long way from reaching most roadways and that heavy trucks might be a better place for the technology to take hold. Longhaul rigs spend most of their time moving straight ahead, on highways without stop lights, cyclists or pedestrians. 

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There’s a new wave of activity in Europe, China and the United States in developing and testing autonomous trucks.

And don’t think that just because most photos and video of current testing clearly show humans sitting in the driver’s seat that they’ve necessarily got anything to do with controlling things. 

On many highways around the world these days they’re just there as a regulatory safety backstop...and pretty soon the artificial intelligence behind autonomous vehicles will be good enough to dispense with the human overseer, say developers.

All major truckmakers plan a driverless future for their models, with the technology generally being co-developed with specialist companies in the AI field.

The flurry of activity around trucking reflects a growing consensus that self-driving cars are still a long way from reaching most roadways and that heavy trucks might be a better place for the technology to take hold. Longhaul rigs spend most of their time moving straight ahead, on highways without stop lights, cyclists or pedestrians. 

And freight is more accommodating than human passengers. As Chris Urmson, CEO of startup Aurora Innovation, puts it: “If a truck takes its time on the way from warehouse to store, the roll of toilet paper doesn’t care.”

Aurora – founded by former executives at Waymo, Tesla and Uber – is partnering with Volvo and PACCAR. 

Among their competitors, Daimler is linked with Google-owned Alphabet’s Waymo, which launched its trucking division Via in 2017….

While Navistar has hooked up with TuSimple Holdings, a San Diego-based company that made its initial public offering earlier this year. 

In each case, the truckmaker plans to install the developer’s automated driving systems into its Class-8 trucks. From there, the business models are still being worked out.

Aurora plans to sell its driverless technology as a service, similar to the way that jet engine makers charge airlines for hours of throttle. TuSimple and Via are pursuing similar plans as well as operating freight services as they test their technology.

None of the partnerships with manufacturers are exclusive. Daimler, for instance, is also working on self-driving trucks through its inhouse subsidiary Torc Robotics.

Autonomous trucking platform provider Embark Trucks has begun hauling loads of office printers for consumer electronics giant HP, using self-driving trucks. Embark is running its autonomous vehicles on a route between Phoenix, Arizona, and Los Angeles, California, covering highway miles between transfer hubs located in both cities.

In Europe, VW Commercial Vehicles has joined with US-based Argo AI to start international trials of autonomous driving, while Volvo subsidiary Volvo Autonomous Solutions is now moving ahead with a commercial pilot project in the port area of Gothenburg.

Chinese firm Inceptio Technology is partnering with Dongfeng Commercial Vehicle and Sinotruk, respectively, to jointly develop two models of Level 3 autonomous trucks that will use its Xuanyuan system, which it claims to be the first in the industry to be developed from the ground up to support mass production. 

At Level 3 autonomy, vehicles have environmental detection capabilities and can make informed decisions for themselves, such as accelerating past a slow-moving vehicle. But they still require human override. The driver must remain alert and ready to take control if the system is unable to execute the task.  


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