Driving down a highway south of Stockholm in a 40-ton truck and trailer, the driver kept an eye on the road but strangely didn’t put his hands on the steering wheel.
Instead, the self-driving truck and veteran driver Roger Nordqvist are available just in case something unexpected goes wrong.
Swedish truck maker Scania isn’t the only carmaker growing self-driving carbut recently it became the first company in Europe to test them while transporting commercial goods.
Peter Hafmar, head of autonomous solutions at Scania, told AFP outside the company’s shipping lab in Sodertalje, south of Stockholm: “We take their goods from point A, take them to point B. , fully automatic”.
inside pilot projectsThe self-driving truck is traveling about 300 kilometers (186 miles) between Sodertalje and Jonkoping in southern Sweden to deliver fast food.
From the outside, the vehicle looks almost like any other truck, except that the roof rails are equipped with cameras and two bug-antenna-like sensors on the sides.
Inside the cabin, the wheels and seats are where you’d expect to find them, but small devices and screens are scattered across the dashboard and a row of wires leads to the computer rack located behind the passenger seat.
Engineer Goran Fjallid sat next to the driver safely in the passenger seat, glued to his laptop as it picked up video from the truck’s camera and flashing text with information about what the vehicle was looking at see.
The second screen shows a 3D image of the truck on the road and all nearby vehicles.
The truck combines all the input from the various sensors with the GPS system, with the different technologies acting as a backup to each other.
“If the road markings disappear for a while, it will use GPS and it will stay in its lane perfectly,” explains Fjallid.
“It’s better on its own than when you drive it manually,” he added.
But he admits it took a lot of trial and error to get the truck to that point.
They had to adjust things like how the truck handled when entering the highway and what to do when another car crossed it.
Every time the truck does something unexpected, such as braking or slowing down for no apparent reason, Fjallid records the exact time so the logs and data can be checked.
The truck’s sensors are also calibrated daily before hitting the road.
Hafmar says there are still a number of hurdles to work through before driverless trucks—without a safe driver—become commonplace on the road, both technologically and legally.
Hafmar says it hopes to have this ready by the late 2020s or early 2030s.
No more truck drivers?
The advent of self-driving trucks can be seen as a threat to our jobs truck driver—one of the most popular occupations in the world.
But Hafmar insists self-driving cars are needed to solve the global driver shortage.
And, he said, it will be a long time before artificial intelligence will be able to handle all aspects of logistics.
Initially, self-driving trucks will likely be used for long-distance trips, Hafmar adds, but last-mile delivery to stores and customers “will happen to the driver,” Hafmar said. added.
According to a report by the International Road Transport Union (IRU) in June, there are approximately 2.6 million unfilled positions for truckers worldwide in 2021.
Hafmar also points out the potential benefits: because computers don’t need to sleep or rest, vehicles can be scheduled for trips at times when there’s less traffic or to drive more slowly—but for longer periods of time—to save fuel.
A number of other companies are also in the race to launch self-driving trucks.
Startups Aurora, Waymo, Embark, Kodiak, and Torc (along with Daimler) are running tests in the US, while China’s Baidu announced one self-driving trucks by the end of 2021.
In Europe, IVECO is working with California startup Plus, which is backed by Amazon and recently announced the end of their first phase of circuit testing. They will also launch road tests.
Swedish company Einride also plans to launch Road tests in Germany soon.
© 2022 AFP
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