The first self-driving truck in day-to-day operation could be a mining truck from Scania. The company is at the forefront of research in this area with tests under real-life conditions not far off.
The truck drives slowly away and its steering wheel moves from side to side. But the driver’s seat of Scania’s self-driving test vehicle, Astator, is completely empty. The mining truck is the first of its kind, with developers at Scania and researchers from technical colleges examining the role self-driving trucks could play in tomorrow’s transport system.
Dealing with obstacles on the road
Development of the concept has come so far that the test vehicle now has no problem in carrying out tasks such as picking up and unloading a load of gravel. It’s also capable of safely dealing with obstacles on the road.
“Mines are environments that are especially well suited to self-driving vehicles,” says Lars Hjorth, responsible for pre-development within Autonomous Transport Solutions at Scania. “The area is contained and the operator can control what other equipment and staff that is working in the area.”
Hjorth is also Project Manager for iQMatic, a research project that Scania is conducting in cooperation with other Swedish companies, such as Saab and Autoliv. The project is being run with support from the Swedish Government and also involves researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Linköping University.
Increased interest in flexible solutions
Up until now, the mining industry has relied upon large and expensive construction-style vehicles for its heavy transport requirements. But interest is increasing around the world in smaller scale and more flexible solutions involving specialised mining trucks.
“A truck solution is more cost effective, with the total cost per transported tonne being significantly lower,” says Hjorth. “The infrastructure costs are also reduced as trucks don’t require specially reinforced roads.”
Pushing down the costs
Self-driving solutions for construction-style vehicles have been around for some years now.
”Now the possibility is opening up to do the same thing with trucks, which could push the mining industry’s costs down even further,” says Hjort.
Hjorth’s 20-member team within Scania’s Research and Development department is intensively researching self-driving vehicles and the peripheral systems needed to make them a part of tomorrow’s transport system in various areas.
“Self-driving mining trucks could become a reality within a few years and the impetus and potential is here today,” says Hjorth. “The next step could be self-driving container trucks in ports. And after that the technology will also come to the long haul transport sector, with self-driving vehicles driving between large transport centres where their cargoes are then loaded into ordinary trucks.”