Scania has since many years been working with various technologies for increased vehicle automation, but this is just one piece in the transport automation puzzle.
“We’re working with what we call autonomous transport solutions, and self-driving vehicles are one of the tools at our disposal,” explains Tom Nyström, Senior Engineer at Scania. “It’s a complete system, handling logistics, the assignment of tasks to vehicles, and information sharing between vehicles and infrastructure. Each transport solution is individually tailored to the customer’s needs.”
Initial focus on industrial areas
During the first stage of development, Scania is focusing on industrial areas, such as mines, ports or terminals. “We chose industrial applications as our first business area because they have a great economic potential, it’s legally possible to operate self-driving vehicles, and the environment is relatively controlled,” says Nyström. “Still, it’s in no way a trivial thing to operate heavy self-driving machines anywhere. They obviously need to be safe, and to achieve this in a unpredictable environment such as a city center is even more difficult.”
First commercial product within five years
There are, of course, still many challenges for the vehicles themselves in this kind of system. The self-driving vehicle must have a long chain of abilities, from using sensor data to “see” the environment, through understanding it and making the correct decisions, to controlling the vehicle. Nyström believes that Scania can have its first commercial product available within five years. “It’s no longer a question of feasibility, but rather about doing it in a robust, smart and economical way. Big advantages for us at Scania are our modular way of building vehicles and that we can develop and adapt nearly all the necessary components ourselves.”
One of the numerous advantages of self-driving industrial vehicles is safety. “There are many environments in the mining industry that are dangerous or unhealthy to people,” he says. “For example, work needs to cease while ventilating harmful gases after blasting. Autonomous vehicles can go to work immediately. In underground mining, much resources are spent on tunnel roof reinforcement before allowing people to enter. Self-driving vehicles don’t have the same requirements.”
New possibilities for mining companies
Another aspect when it comes to the mining industry is availability. “Many mines are located in extremely remote places,” says Nyström. “It’s often hard to recruit qualified people to such locations and this is a limiting factor for opening new operations. Additionally, each miner requires housing, cooking, cleaning, and so on, so you basically need to build an entire community by the mine.”
In a wider perspective, the advantages to society are even more radical. A completely automated transport system allows customers to concentrate on their core business rather than having to micromanage transport operations. “In a large scale application, such a system can minimise congestion, increase vehicle fill rates, facilitate freight consolidation, and ensure that each vehicle is doing the right thing at the right time. Imagine a city where mobility of goods and people runs like clockwork – no unnecessary transports, no traffic jams, and a clean environment,” says Nyström.