Volvo moves forward on road tests of automated trucks, self-driving cars
Volvo and Japanese logistics company Nippon Express expect to begin road tests of automated trucks during this month, according to a report by Nikkei Asian Review.
According to the report, the move is a new step toward addressing the severe shortage of drivers in the Asian country.
Nippon Express and local Volvo unit UD Trucks will carry out the testing with the Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives. The trials will be carried out in the northern town of Shari, along a stretch connecting a sugar plant of the co-op group to a processing line 1.3 km away.
The trucks will operate at level 4 automation, which is just one level below full autonomy. This will mark the first test in Japan using trucks at this level of automation and will also represent the first test of this kind carried out by the Swedish auto manufacturer in Asia.
The report also stated that Japanese regulations only allow level 1 and 2 vehicles on public roads, since these levels of automation still require substantial driver involvement. In May, the Japanese authorities authorized test of level 3 automated driving starting next year.
The Japanese trucking industry is being negatively impacted by a shortage of drivers. Japan will face a shortage of 240,000 truck drivers by 2027 due to such factors as mass retirements, according to private studies.
In June, Volvo, together with Uber, presented a jointly developed production car capable of driving by itself.
Uber and Volvo Cars had entered a joint engineering agreement in 2016 and have since developed several prototypes aimed at accelerating the companies’ self-driving car development. The companies said that the Volvo XC90 SUV is the first production car that in combination with Uber’s self-driving system is capable of fully driving itself.
The XC90 base vehicle is equipped with safety features that allow Uber to install its own self-driving system, enabling the possible future deployment of self-driving cars in Uber’s network as an autonomous ridesharing service, Volvo said.
The vehicle features several back-up systems for both steering and braking functions as well as battery back-up power. If any of the primary systems should fail for some reason, the back-up systems are designed to immediately act to bring the car to a stop.
In addition to Volvo’s built-in back-up systems, an array of sensors atop and built into the vehicle are designed for Uber’s self-driving system to safely operate and maneuver in an urban environment.
Volvo said that the vehicle is part of Volvo Cars’ 2016 commercial agreement with Uber for the delivery of tens of thousands of autonomous drive-ready base cars in coming years.
Volvo also plans to use a similar autonomous base vehicle concept for the introduction of its future autonomous drive cars in the early 2020s. These technologies, to be introduced on the next generation of Volvo models based on the SPA2 vehicle architecture, will include features designed to enable unsupervised autonomous drive in clearly designated areas such as highways and ring roads.