SWEDISH truck maker Scania says that it is now well-advanced on creating driverless trucks that can negotiate set roads and load/unload remotely.
The first practical application of the technology might be the mining industry in Australia.
In Europe, Scania’s Astator test vehicles have been developed to the point they can now drive around with an empty driver’s seat on a test track, running through simulations of loading and unloading under remote control. It’s also capable of safely dealing with obstacles on the road.
“Mines are environments that are especially well suited to self-driving vehicles,” says Lars Hjorth, responsible for pre-development within autonomous transport solutions at Scania.
“The area is contained and the operator can control what equipment or personnel are working in the area.”
Hjorth is also project manager for iQMatic, a research project that Scania is conducting in cooperation with other Swedish companies, such as Saab and Autoliv.
The project is being run with support from the Swedish Government and also involves researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Linköping University.
Up to now, the mining industry has relied upon large and expensive construction-style vehicles for its heavy transport requirements. But interest is increasing around the world in smaller scale and more flexible solutions involving specialised mining trucks.
“A truck solution is more cost effective, with the total cost per transported tonne being significantly lower,” says Hjorth. “The infrastructure costs are also reduced as trucks don’t require specially reinforced roads.”
Self-driving solutions for construction-style vehicles have been around for some years now.
“Now the possibility is opening up to do the same thing with trucks, which could push the mining industry’s costs down even further,” says Hjorth.
His 20-member team within Scania’s research and development department is researching self-driving vehicles and the peripheral systems needed to make them a part of tomorrow’s transport system in various areas.
“Self-driving mining trucks could become a reality within a few years and the impetus and potential is here today,” says Hjorth.
“The next step could be self-driving container trucks in ports. And after that the technology will also come to the long haul transport sector, with self-driving vehicles driving between large transport centres where their cargoes are then loaded into last mile delivery trucks.”