Scania wins approval to expand route tests of autonomous trucks
30 MAY 2022
Scania self-driving transport vehicles will now be able to operate on all categories of roads between the Swedish cities of Södertälje and Jönköping.
The Swedish Transport Agency Transportstyrelsen has given Scania approval to expand the route and range of its autonomous vehicle testing on the nation’s roads.
In February 2021, Scania was given permission to begin operating three autonomous trucks on a stretch of the E4 highway between the company’s main production site in Södertälje and Nyköping, which lies 70 kilometres to the south.
The success of that trial has now led to an expansion of the distance and parameters of the tests. The autonomous trucks will be able to drive on all types of roads – local and national – between Södertälje and the southern city of Jönköping, which is nearly 300 kilometres and three-and-a-half hours away.
It’s a development which has delighted Scania, which has been exploring this technology for the best part of the last decade, including in mining and delivery applications.
“It’s great to have the transport authority’s backing for the three autonomous trucks to drive Scania goods on all categories of roads between Södertälje and Jönköping. The legislation is helping not hindering us, and this is a big step forward for us and our work with this technology,” says Peter Hafmar, Vice-President and Head of Autonomous Solutions.
“It means our vehicles can go completely autonomously from the gates of Scania to the end destination. We have someone sitting at the wheel monitoring the system during this testing, but the vehicles are driving by themselves. They’re out there in busy local traffic and then on the highway at 80 km/h down to Jönköping, where they can then navigate the roundabouts and local roads, before arriving by themselves at the destination where we deliver the goods.”
Why autonomous vehicles are needed
Although mass production and adoption of autonomous vehicles are still some way off, the momentum towards this technology has only become stronger in recent years. Scania is keen to stay abreast of this development as an important part of the journey to future transport, even as questions of safety and driver redundancy inevitably arise.
“The technology itself is cool, but even better is that it is helping us to solve some pressing issues facing the transport industry, such as driver shortages, safety and sustainability,” explains Hafmar.
“There’s a huge lack of drivers in Europe and the US. In the US alone, they had a shortage of 80,000 drivers in 2021, a figure which is expected to double by 2030.
“Autonomous vehicles are also able to go for long stretches without the need for pauses as we do with drivers. That means we could potentially run them 24/7, but at speeds that are safer and less energy-intensive, while the vehicle’s sensors make them react quicker to road dangers such as animals. Then, instead of drivers being away from home for weeks on end, local drivers can take the wheel for the ‘last mile’ to do the actual unloading and deliveries.”
Peter Hafmar says that the data being collected from the current Swedish tests will enable Scania to develop the machine learning to handle the widest possible range of scenarios that can face autonomous vehicles. He expects more prototypes and more tests in other parts of Europe to follow in due course, in a slow and steady expansion phase.
Overall, Scania’s autonomous strategy focuses on mining, where it has already been working on several projects and also concentrating on ‘hub-to-hub’ or terminal-to-terminal applications. Hub-to-hub logistics is a market that just keeps growing, and the easier operating conditions it has compared with the complications of crowded cities make it ideal for Scania’s autonomous journey.
While Hafmar expects that autonomous technology will not become industrialised until the end of the 2020s, he believes that the momentum is unstoppable.
“The technology is getting really close now, and, just as with the opposition to combustion engines at the start of the twentieth century, the obstacles are steadily being removed. We need to be ready for this change, which will complement the other sustainable developments in the transport industry. That’s why we’re investing in it now.”