Volvo Autonomous Electric Truck Boasts Low Noise, Zero Emissions

The commercial truck division of Swedish carmaker Volvo has been ramping up investment in autonomous technology, resulting in a self-driving tow vehicle bearing little resemblance to your classic big rig.

More akin to the bottom half of a futuristic sports car, the vehicle is designed to drive regular, repetitive routes of short distances while towing large volumes of goods.

These autonomous electric vehicles are linked to a cloud service and a transport control center and carry sensors designed to locate their current position to within centimeters.

The transport control center continuously monitors the progress of each vehicle and its position, the batteries’ charge, load content, service requirements and a number of other parameters.

Additional sensors will monitor in detail and analyze what is happening with other road users, while the fully electric propulsion system boasts zero exhaust emissions and low noise levels.

The company noted the driveline and battery pack are of the same type that are used in the company’s contemporary electric trucks.

Volvo claims that because speed and progress are tailored to avoid unnecessary waiting, it will be possible to minimize waste and increase availability.

Within a mere three years, the worldwide market for self-driving trucks could run into more than $1 billion, according to an April report from market research firm Allied.

Indeed, by 2025 the market for these autonomous vehicles may reach almost $1.7 billion, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10% between 2020 and 2025.

In June, Volvo Trucks North America successfully completed an on-highway demonstration of its truck platooning technology, consisting of three professional truck drivers in Volvo VNL tractors, each pulling double 28-foot trailers.

The company, together with FedEx and the North Carolina Turnpike Authority (NCTA), used advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technology to conduct on-highway truck platooning as part of an ongoing research collaboration.

Truck platooning comprises a number of trucks equipped with ADAS platforms — one closely following the other and forming a platoon — with the vehicles in constant communication with each other.

Mercedes-Benz also recently unveiled a semi-autonomous line of its Actros trucks that feature the carmaker’s new driver assistance technology.

The Germany automaker says what sets this technology apart from existing technologies of its type is its incorporation of “active latitudinal control and the combination of longitudinal and lateral control” so the truck can be driven semi-autonomously across all speed ranges for the first time.

The looming specter of autonomous commercial truck development has caused jitters in the truck driving industry, but a recent report suggests only a small number of truck driver jobs, if any, will be affected by the rise of commercial vehicle automation.

The American Center for Mobility (ACM) study did note there may be displacement among passenger car-based driving jobs, like taxi drivers, by the late 2020s, when greater numbers of autonomous vehicles are expected to be deployed.

When it comes to commercial trucking, however, automated technology would largely support truck drivers instead of replacing them.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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