UD Trucks Corp., the Japanese unit of Sweden’s AB Volvo, conducted the nation’s first public demonstration of Level 4 autonomous trucking, handling farm produce at a sugar processing facility in the country’s northernmost main island prefecture of Hokkaido.
The test on Thursday, August 29, is significant because Japan faces a shortage of 240,000 truck drivers by 2027 as the nation’s population ages and shrinks. According to logistics provider Nippon Express, that represents about 25 percent of all truck-driving jobs.
“We have been working hard, together with our customers, to improve the efficiency of logistics, but the shortage of drivers has become more and more serious,” said Hisao Taketsu, Nippon Express executive vice president. “If an automated truck is used for repetitive tasks, such as transporting cargo along the same route, it will lead to higher productivity.”
The specially adapted heavy-duty Quon truck had a safety driver on board, but he did not intervene during the 1.5-kilometer demonstration captured in this video.
Level 4 autonomy refers to high automation, which means the vehicle can operate without human interference but may be confined to a certain geographical area or be speed limited.
UD Trucks partnered with Nippon Express and the Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives. Testing began August 5 and concluded August 30.
UD Trucks announced an innovation roadmap in 2018 that aims to deliver fully electric and autonomous trucks by 2030.
“We’d like to launch commercial operations [of level 4 vehicles] in a confined area as early as next year,” said UD Trucks President Takamitsu Sakamaki.
“By combining the expertise of commercial vehicle manufacturers, logistics companies and the agricultural sector, we have shown that autonomous driving technology plays an essential role in enhanced safety, increased energy- and fuel-efficiency and consequently improved productivity,” he said.
During the public demonstration, the autonomous truck covered a typical delivery route, traveling 200 meters on a public road around the factory at 20 kilometers per hour. It entered the factory site, drove to the produce acceptance area, interim storage and the final unloading area at an average speed of 20 kilometers per hour.
Volvo AB also is testing autonomous mining trucks in Norway.