And in fact, Aurora’s focus on autonomous trucking represents an industry shift. Argo AI based its business model on passenger cars and had nothing to fall back on as the timeline for self-driving commercialization grew.
Volvo Group, which plans to use Aurora’s technology in autonomous Class 8 trucks, believes there is a viable path to commercialization that can bypass the urban drive that has become the industry’s albatross.
“In order to not fall into that trap, we have decided to focus on three industry verticals,” Jaeger said.
Volvo sees an initial business in providing autonomy for the quarry and mining industry. Jaeger said that industry has high injury and fatality rates, prompting a need to remove humans from its operations.
Mines and quarries are contained areas with restricted traffic and far fewer random events for an AV to process.
Volvo Autonomous Solutions is already providing autonomous trucking at the Bronnoy Kalk mine in Norway. Several autonomous Volvo FH trucks traverse a 3-mile stretch through narrow tunnels between the limestone mine and the crusher. For now, Volvo operates the autonomous shifts with a safety driver in the cab.
Volvo Autonomous Solutions also is working with Holcim Switzerland to test and develop Volvo’s Tara autonomous haulage system at a limestone quarry in Siggenthal, Switzerland.
Ports and logistics centers are other areas where Volvo sees an early use for autonomous trucks.
In one project, Volvo is using autonomous trucks to move containers from a DFDS Logistics center in Gothenburg, Sweden, to a nearby container terminal at the port. The trucks are connected to a cloud-based control tower. The journey requires some driving on an open road, but it is limited, with a speed of no more than 25 mph, Jaeger said. And although busier than mines, ports also have restricted traffic.
Still, “it’s a big step up in complexity,” Jaeger said.
The third leg is hub-to-hub on-highway transportation, which others in the trucking industry also are pursuing.
“What you see here is that there is no last-mile vehicle,” Jaeger said.
Daimler sees autonomous hub-to-hub freight operations as the first significant open-road use of self-driving vehicles.
In this model, a human driver ferries a load to an adjacent highway hub. An autonomous big rig takes over and hauls the freight to a similar hub hundreds of miles away, where another human takes the cargo to its final destination.
Daimler’s Daum said the hubs must be close to the highway.
“It’s a finite mile, which you can map exactly. You can look that the turns fit and that the crossroads are protected with traffic lights,” he told Automotive News.
Embark Trucks Inc., a San Francisco autonomous driving technology company, is working with Alterra Property Group and Ryder to build out a national hub network. Its goal is to be operating fully driverless trucks in 2024.
Daum said the hub-to-hub concept has a longer but still “reasonable” time frame. Within a decade, he expects to see a U.S. hub system for autonomously transporting goods long distances on highways.
But venturing outside that defined network risks “infinite” hazards, Daum said.
Pete Bigelow contributed to this report.