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Autonomous Long Haul: Updates From Daimler, Scania, and Volvo

4 days ago by David Peterson

Driverless trucking technology pursues a simple yet lofty goal: hauling materials safely and efficiently while reducing the strain on a dwindling surplus of qualified CDL holders.

Across the globe, trucks haul materials down highways, through busy cities, and between material processing facilities. Several major manufacturers, including Daimler, Scania, and Volvo, continue to exemplify advancements in electrification and autonomous technologies, working together to deliver goods from the first to the last mile.

 

Autonomous truck

Autonomous truck. Image used courtesy of Volvo

 

Daimler’s Freightliner eCascadia

Autonomous passenger cars and taxi services enjoy the public's attention, and for good reason. People interact directly with passenger cars virtually every day. While commercial trucks are an ever-present afterthought, they are so important to the comforts people enjoy in their lives.

Industry leader Daimler Truck North America has added autonomous technology to the proven battery-powered drivetrain base of the Freightliner eCascadia, combining electric and autonomous technology.

 

The autonomous Freightliner eCascadia from Daimler Truck North America.

The autonomous Freightliner eCascadia from Daimler Truck North America. Image used courtesy of Daimler Truck

 

The truck uses various sensors to scan the roadways, including Lidar, radar, and visual cameras. The vision technology's broad spectrum reduces possible errors in detection, which are known to plague simple vision systems used throughout industrial automation. The critical difference in this application is the safety of motorists sharing the roadway.

 

Scania’s Heavy Tipper for Mining

While long-haul trucking is necessary for goods delivery, it is far from considered the most important commercial transportation element. In the mining industry, huge excavators and dump trucks haul many tons of material short distances from the mine to the refining center.

Scania, a company with design experience in both manned and unmanned vehicles, has been working with mining operations to develop an autonomous package for 40-metric-ton tipper haulers (with plans for a 50-metric-ton model) to improve efficiency in raw materials transport.

 

Scania's 40-ton mining truck

Scania has developed a heavy load hauler for mining transportation. Image used courtesy of Scania

 

These trucks are initially targeted for the Australian mining market, with sales having just opened for that region. Future plans predict expansion into Latin America. No matter the region, mining presents specific challenges in harsh operating environments and extremely heavy load demands, all of which were extensively tested by a close collaboration between Scania and mining R&D teams.

 

Volvo and Aurora’s Autonomous Launch

Autonomous driving combines three important elements. First, the vehicle base comprises a battery or gas/diesel-powered drivetrain. Second, the necessary sensing and I/O hardware packages gain information about driving conditions to provide proper acceleration or braking commands. Finally, these two systems cannot operate together without an advanced software package tying the controllers, I/O devices, and communication technologies into a single system.

This complexity leads many trucking companies to rely on automation software experts to design autonomous vehicle package elements. Volvo has partnered with Aurora Innovation to launch the first iteration of a production-ready autonomous truck.

 

Volvo and Aurora's new Autonomous truck

The new Volvo VNL was created alongside driving technology from Aurora Innovation. Image used courtesy of Volvo

 

Volvo's VNL Autonomous was unveiled at the ACT Expo, held in May in Las Vegas. Several themes, including safety, redundancy, and efficiency, were echoed in most other unmanned vehicle projects. Lacking any of those elements would render a product unsuitable for the roadways. Volvo is committed to driving progress and innovation, clearly illustrated in the VNL launch.

 

Opportunities for Transportation Automation

Trucking poses numerous unique challenges for automation, but it’s also a field ripe for solutions. Society’s growing demand for consumable goods that must be delivered promptly and safely exacerbates the shortage of qualified truck drivers. Autonomous driving technology might not solve these problems immediately, but it’s a step in the right direction for those who enjoy basic and luxury comforts. Perhaps more importantly, it expands access to those in need around the globe.