Thu, May 16, 2019 - Page 10 News List

Driverless truck starts deliveries in Sweden

Reuters, JONKOPING, Sweden

Resembling the helmet of a Star Wars stormtrooper, a driverless electric truck yesterday began daily freight deliveries on a public road in Sweden, in what developer Einride and logistics customer DB Schenker described as a world first.

Einride chief executive officer Robert Falck said that the company was in partnership talks with major suppliers to help scale production and deliver orders, and the firm did not rule out future tie-ups with large truckmakers.

“This public road permit is a major milestone ... and it is a step to commercializing autonomous technology on roads,” the former Volvo Trucks executive said.

“Since we’re a software and operational first company, a partnership with a manufacturing company is something that we see as a core moving forward,” he said, adding that he hoped to seal a deal by next year.

Falck said Einride, whose investors include former Daimler Trucks Asia head Marc Llistosella, is also courting investors for an ongoing Series A fundraising, often a company’s first sizable one. It previously raised US$10 million.

Auto alliances are on the rise to share the cost of electric and autonomous technology. Ford has vowed to invest US$500 million in US electric utility truck start-up Rivian.

Einride’s T-Pod is 26 tonnes when full and does not have a driver cabin, which it estimates reduces road freight operating costs by about 60 percent versus a diesel truck with a driver.

Besides Schenker, Einride has orders from German grocer Lidl Stiftung & Co, Swedish delivery company Svenska Retursystem AB and five Fortune 500 retail companies, underpinning its ambition to have 200 vehicles in operation by the end of next year.

Freight operators are under pressure to reduce delivery times, cut emissions and face a growing shortage of drivers.

Schenker chief executive officer Jochen Thewes said his firm picked Einride over established truckmakers as the T-Pod straddles the two biggest sector transformations: digitization and electrification.

“We believe that Einride is the best concept out there for now,” he said.

The T-Pod is a Level 4 autonomous vehicle, the second highest category, and uses a Nvidia Drive platform to process visual data in real time. An operator, sitting kilometers away, could supervise and control up to 10 vehicles at once.

The rollout of 5G technology, vital for electrification, was lagging, Thewes said, adding that for Schenker’s pilot with Einride, Ericsson and Telia had to construct two new towers.

The T-Pod has permission to make short trips — between a warehouse and a terminal — on a public road in an industrial area in Jonkoping, central Sweden, at up to 5kph, documents from the transport authority show.

Einride would apply next year for more public route permits and was planning to expand in the US, Falck said.

“Ground zero for autonomous vehicles is the United States. I think it will be the first market to scale when it comes to autonomous vehicles,” he said.

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