In many ways, transportation networks are the arteries that help an economy to function, but have largely repelled evolutionary changes for many decades. But as commerce explodes and cities overflow, it becomes critical for the industry to look inward and rummage for technological disruptions that could shape the transportation industry to be more efficient, safer, and emissions-free.
The auto industry has been hard at work, with OEMs and niche startups bringing in alternative modes and models of transportation like VTOLs, MaaS, and Hyperloop closer to mainstream adoption. Autonomous drive and electric vehicles are the more popular technologies on road, the impact of which is expected to considerably lessen accidents on the road and reduce carbon footprint.
In that stead, Volvo Trucks is now working on a solution that could be called the best of both worlds - an autonomous electric commercial vehicle called Vera, which the company says would help haul freight across fixed hubs in a way that could complement today’s traditional transportation systems.
“The full potential of the transport industry is yet to be seen. Everything suggests that the global need for transportation will continue to significantly increase in the coming decade. If we are to meet this demand in a sustainable and efficient way, we must find new solutions,” said Claes Nilsson, President of Volvo Trucks.
“In order to secure a smoothly functioning goods flow system we also need to exploit existing infrastructure better than currently. The transport system we are developing can be an important complement to today’s solutions and can help meet many of the challenges faced by society, transport companies, and transport buyers.”
Volvo Trucks’ Vera is a vehicle that is designed to take on a trailer and comes with no cab space for a driver. Right now, the company is looking to understand this new dimension and is working with partners in giving shape to use-cases, helping cut down costs and making the value chain more efficient than before.
While Nilsson refused to comment on the timeline and the roadmap to the pilot or commercial release, he did mention that the solution would help in situations where transportation is redundant and runs between specific predetermined locations. “This would be suited to work in repetitive flow, going back and forth from point A to B, and can work 24x7,” he said.
Nilsson spoke about the frustrations that shippers face as they contend with the lack of adequate drivers in the industry. “I have transporters saying that they are lacking drivers both in North America and in Europe, and would buy more vehicles [from Volvo Trucks] if they could get more drivers,” he said. “We have a situation where there is a shortage of drivers and that is where this solution could be a good complement.”
Vera’s operations would be run through a transport control center, with data and instructions flowing in through the cloud. The vehicles would be sending out their precise location in real-time, helping remote operators to monitor the situation and respond instantly to situations created on the road. Vera would find itself highly utilitarian in logistics heavy ecosystems like a harbor or an industrial complex.
With zero exhaust emissions and silent engines, operations can move about in full flow even during the night, as its impact on its surrounding neighborhood would be minimal. “What you see in this concept is a combination of an autonomous and electrified vehicle - you get both efficiency and lesser environmental impact, which I think is the first ever in the industry,” said Nilsson.