T-pod’s mission: To move freight autonomously

Einride t-pod

It looks more like a box on wheels, but the electrically powered, self-driving T-pod hopes to revolutionize cargo transport

Another entry into the world of driverless trucks unveiled its concept to the world on Tuesday. Einride, a Swedish startup, showed off a full-scale prototype of its T-pod cargo vehicle at the Almedalsveckan festival in Visby, Sweden.

The design of the T-pod is the most striking when contrasted with current test models of autonomous trucks – it has no place for a driver. It is an electric, self-driving vehicle, or perhaps more appropriately, a box on wheels, that can be remotely controlled by drivers. Einride is also building charging stations and related infrastructure. The company said it expects to have about 200 vehicles running a dedicated route between Gotehenburg and Helsingborg, Sweden, by 2020.

Interestingly, Einride is taking a similar approach to the autonomous truck as Starsky Robotics, which is also building a remote-controlled system. In both instances, the truck can be operated by a “driver” sitting in a centralized location. Starsky believes this will allow drivers to work standard shifts and go home on a daily basis. The difference is where Starsky is developing a retrofit system atop an existing diesel tractor-trailer, Einride has gone the electric route and eliminated space for a driver.

The T-pod can work in autonomous mode or with a remote driver. A remote driver could potentially direct multiple vehicles at once, the company said.

The T-pod will not be moving truckloads of goods, but might be suitable for less-than-truckload movements, particularly in e-commerce applications moving goods from regional distribution centers to local fulfillment centers. The T-pod, which Einride said will be available internationally, is approximately 23 feet long. Because there is no driver location, the majority of the vehicle can be dedicated to cargo. It holds 15 standard-sized pallets and weighs 20 tons fully loaded. With a 200 kWh battery, the vehicle will have a range of about 124 miles.

“Our vision is to enhance the lives of all people through the delivery of a global, impact-positive supply chain infrastructure. We don’t believe our work is done when we’ve achieved carbon neutrality,” said Robert Falck, CEO. “Our design process is driven by our goal to have a net positive impact – whether that’s improving the lives of transport workers or reducing road traffic accidents, every element of our system aims to have a measurable positive impact on the planet.”

It is expected that once the 200 vehicles are operating, more than 2 million pallets of goods will move between the two Swedish cities on T-pods.

“Einride is transforming the existing transport chain from the ground up,” said Filip Lilja, COO. “The big companies behind long haul trucks keep building bigger trucks to increase efficiency, which ultimately means even more emissions. We are changing that by creating a secure solution that is, not only cost effective, but dramatically minimizes the negative environmental impact of the transportation industry.”

In addition to Starsky Robotics, Daimler, Tesla, Uber and Google’s Waymo are all working on autonomous vehicles. Others, including Nikola One, are working on electric trucks. But while each of these are more focused on truckload freight, Einride’s entry is among the first that may be an ideal fit for LTL and e-commerce freight.