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Autonomous VehiclesTrucking

CES 2020: Kenworth quietly reveals autonomous truck

Test results, not fanfare, top priority in preparing entry into Level 4 fray.

Kenworth Truck Co. skipped the fanfare in debuting its proof-of-concept Level 4 autonomous truck at CES 2020 because the Paccar Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR) brand is focused on learning what to expect from automated driving.

“We have a pretty good plan and it’s going to take a lot of validation work once we get it to the point where it can run hands off and we’re confident of it,” Brian Lindgren, Kenworth research and development director, told FreightWaves.

“Doing all of the validation work is going to be a couple of years to prove in different situations that you can’t always foresee when you’re designing it.”

The conventional body T680 with chrome grill and headlamps set low over curved wheel flares appears little changed from its diesel-powered origin. Light-detecting and ranging (LiDAR) units affixed to the traditional exterior mirrors are one noticeable exterior addition.

Private interior

At CES in Las Vegas, Kenworth protected the interior from prying eyes by privacy glass and locked doors. 

“There’s a lot of racks for hardware in there,” Lindgren said. Five computers host software and feedback control logic for actuation, recording up to 1 terabyte (TB) of data per hour of driving. 

A global navigation satellite system with an inertial measurement unit combined with a LiDAR point cloud on a high-definition map provides location accuracy to within a centimeter. 

“We’re using this as a test bed to try out different sensors and LiDAR,” Lindgren said. Three  LiDARs from two different suppliers, three radars and six cameras sense the surrounding road environment and feed fusion algorithms in the perception stack to identify and track objects.

Mechanical modifications include redundant steering torque overlay system, an upgraded high-capacity alternator and a high-fidelity electronically controlled air-braking system and rear seats in the place of a sleeper berth to accommodate engineers for ride-alongs. 

Competitor plays

A year ago at CES, autonomous startup Tu Simple showed its similarly equipped truck, which is now running revenue-generating routes with a safety driver in the U.S. Southwest. Daimler Trucks North America is testing its Level 4 Freightliner Cascadia on public roads in Virginia near Torc Robotics, the 13-year-old software provider it purchased in March 2019 to speed its readiness for automated trucking.

“We’re learning about how to do autonomous trucks,” said Lindgren, who separately oversees Kenworth’s partnership with Toyota Motor Corp. in the development of 10 Class 8 hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks.

“We’re doing a lot of the (autonomous) software development ourselves. We’re also having others do software development for us so it gives us a chance to learn about that too,” he said.

2025 timeline

A day before Kenworth’s quiet reveal at CES, German supplier ZF Friedrichshafen said it would provide a fully autonomous system for an unidentified commercial vehicle customer by 2025. 

“There is a lot of development that is happening in the automotive industry overall that is accelerating some of this,” Lindgren said. “Not all of it is really built for heavy trucks. It doesn’t have the kind of longevity and durability that we need.”

But Lindgren said 2025 is a reasonable time frame for autonomous trucks to be on the road and operating in a terminal environment. 

“We’re pursuing both so they could come together at the same time,” he said.

He discounts remote-controlled driverless trucks like those promoted by Starsky Robotics and Stolkholm, Sweden-based Einride. 

“There will be a lot of telemetries so the home office knows where it is,” Lindgren said. “Will somebody be watching a screen and piloting? I don’t see that happening. Certainly you can do that, but I don’t know if that is where the gains will be.”

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is a Detroit-based award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and most recently as Detroit Bureau Chief for Trucks.com. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.

15 Comments

  1. Plastic autonomous trucks. Have at it. Im so glad i am close to the finish line. No other class of skilled workmen has ever been treated worse than truckers. It is an absolute and murderous agenda they have on us professional drivers. The coming HOLOCAUST of our living is in the works. I am so saddened by it all.

  2. I really think that corporate Amercia and foreign investors, in technology, are undermining the hard working people who make their living one mile at a time. This further indicates that the working man needs to figure out a way to level the playing field. This is in light of the fact that it is today’s truck drivers that have built this industry through blood, sweat and tears and not a computer or its programmers. Perhaps automated CEOs making business decisions vs. automated machines transporting product at 60-70 mph, amongst the general population is the way to go!. #FoodForThought

  3. And in winter months they’ll need to hire people to drive the things unless they come up with a way to put tire chains on, cause automatic chains are about useless.. There’s some of us out here that actually love doing this thing called trucking I’m fourth generation trucker and .its sad to see people that have no interest in trucking what so ever do this. But then again there’s enough of us that eat and breath trucks that it should be fun to see the stuff that happens when one of us meets one of these trucks on the road

  4. After 20 years all I have seen is abuse and disrespect to the truck drivers and now that” toy truck.”
    Wait until all those satellites go down . You will see the CHAOS in our roads.

  5. Great job KW! Just dont forget who made you a successful company, those millions of truck drivers your replacing to make a quick buck.
    I’m curious how a semi without a driver will find a dock, fuel or plug in a cord, find a parking spot, deal with changing weather conditions, handle aggressive drivers, or dropping and hooking a trailer.

  6. Any one that would ride in one of these trucks and not be in control of it is a fool . After 30 plus years I am planning a quick exit . I hope the majority of drivers see the light and do the same. If the trucking industry finds its self in a situation of a severe lack of a work force then they get what they deserve.

  7. Yep more Bs.. In an effort to make a dollar and push out the hard working profession driver, they come out with this crap. It seemed like a good idea Mr President, we dont know how some one hacked our system and drove 50 trucks thru the white house and pentagon…

  8. Lawmakers will allow driverless trucks to roam the streets among the general population while at the same time will require two people aboard every train that runs on a fixed guideway in a mostly isolated environment. What’s wrong with that picture?
    Autonomous vehicles are a technology that is totally unneeded!

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