Sweden’s Einride Has Robotic Trucks, but the System’s the Thing

If a tree is cut down in the forest and a silent, driverless truck takes it away, did it really fall?

The Swedish startup Einride is counting on it. Einride unveiled its autonomous, all-electric logging truck, the T-log, last month, promising a more economical way to move timber from one place to another while achieving a smaller carbon footprint.

The new vehicle joins the T-pod, a general-purpose cargo truck introduced last year, which is now set to begin a commercial pilot this fall in Jonkoping, Sweden, according to Trucks.com.

Einride is different from many other startups in the emerging autonomous vehicle business: It’s less insistent on pure autonomy and less focused on the vehicles themselves. The company, founded by former Volvo Trucks executive Robert Falck, aims to build logistics systems — and, in some cases, operate them.

In a video on Einride’s site, Falck refers to AV systems as a commodity. Einride built the T-pod and T-log around autonomous driving computers from Nvidia, along with cameras, radar and lidar sensors. It worked with partners to design and build the imposing, white, Star Wars-like rigs. Einride’s differentiator is the software on board, and more importantly, the system in which each truck is designed to operate.

That’s why you won’t hear Falck rave about how far Einride’s trucks can go on a charge. With their 200-kilowatt-hour batteries, their range is only about 200 kilometers (124 miles). But that doesn’t matter, because Einride’s logistics software can efficiently schedule trips and charging stops across a whole fleet of trucks, Falck says.

“We can actually solve the range problem by thinking as a system,” Falck says in the video.

Customers will be able to order an entire infrastructure, including vehicles, charging stations, a traffic-aware routing system and fleet operation software, or just buy logistics as a service and let Einride run it all. Falck sees freight operators and retail chains as key prospects.

However, the T-log does stand out as a vehicle, both for its cabless design and for its intended use.

By not including a cab on either of its vehicles, Einride cuts out the most expensive part of a truck to design and build, as well as leaving more room within the vehicle’s footprint for the payload. No cab also means less weight and size, for greater efficiency.

Because it can’t put a backup driver on board, Einride worked with Silicon Valley startup Phantom Auto to create a remote control system. If a truck ends up in a situation where it can’t determine what to do next, a driver in a control center takes over operations using video cameras and other sensors on the truck in real time. One driver at a remote console can handle multiple trucks in a fleet, Falck says. And that driver doesn’t have to be paid to wait for a truck’s battery to charge.

This works over existing 4G cellular networks, without the need for upcoming 5G automotive features, thanks to technology that Phantom says can overcome 4G coverage and performance issues. The T-pod trial this fall will involve trucks going between two logistics facilities in the same city under remote control.

Einride calls the T-log a Level 4 autonomous vehicle, or one that can perform all driving tasks by itself in certain areas and conditions. But while limited autonomy often means a car can drive itself on a highway in between onramps and offramps, the T-log is designed to navigate forest roads and even has some off-road capability, Einride says.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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