In many respects, the engineers entrusted with developing the concept truck Scania AXL entered uncharted territory. For most, building the autonomous truck has been the greatest challenge of their professional lives.
In a very short time, Scania’s engineers have transformed a conventional truck to a fully autonomous vehicle, with the traditional cab replaced by a front module with intelligent technology.
“We’ve learned a lot and I believe there now is the widespread insight that it is much harder than many initially realised to develop a safe self-driving vehicle for varying applications in different environments,” says Eric Falkgrim, Project Manager for Scania AXL.
Intelligent front module
Scania AXL’s brain is the intelligent front module, where data from cameras, radar and lidar sensors together generate a common view of the vehicle’s immediate surroundings.
Development Engineer Magnus Granström was one of those developing the software for the front module. “In software terms, the greatest challenge has been to ensure that the concept truck is sufficiently safe to be driven without a steering wheel. In essence, the steering wheel has been the precaution through which a driver can intervene if something goes wrong. When we don’t have that, the system must simply work perfectly,” he says.
Development Engineer Carl Wettergren has been involved throughout the Scania AXL project. “One of the early issues was to what extent the front module could be subjected to motion. The aim was for the cameras and sensors to be built into the module and we had lengthy discussions how these would connect with the chassis.”
Senior Mechanic Pierre Jacobsson says that during its development, Scania AXL was sometimes hoisted into axle stands to prevent the truck from moving uncontrolled. He’s delighted with the end product.
“Two years ago, we saw some rough sketches of what the truck might look like and it seemed very strange. This was something completely new for us. But the result is far cooler than that. It’s bold, really bold.”
Exploring customer needs
A key motivation for Scania’s development of the self-driving truck has been to start exploring customer needs.
“When autonomous vehicles have reached full maturity and we approach customers, we need to understand all their needs,” says Falkgrim. “This is our interpretation of what we believe customers may require for future transport needs. And we welcome their response.”
“It was a tremendous feeling to see the project cross the finishing line, when Scania AXL actually drove for the first time. That was a truly amazing experience,” Falkgrim recalls.