Autonomous Trucks Now

Autonomous Trucks Now

We can keep our heads in the sand and tell ourselves they are decades away, but there are some real-world examples of the latest technology making this possible in quite a short time.

 

These examples are from Volvo, but you can be sure every major truck maker is pouring plenty of dollars into autonomous programs all over the world. In fact, the basic technology should be available to all of them, as the gizmos which make it possible – like the light-based radar – are being made by a wide spread of component suppliers.

 

So, these trucks are going to be a reality. The first areas to use them will be in confined areas like mine sites and industrial plants, but we can be sure the pace of technology development will not slow and enable the new trucks to interact with humans more and more over a short period of time.

 

 

Autonomous trucks delivering goods in the centre of Melbourne, no, or running a B-triple down the Bruce Highway, no. However, moving containers around the port and to nearby depots, quite possibly.

Return of the Volvo BigCab, Eagle Parade and Stacking Signs

At an event during the Brisbane Truck Show weekend, Volvo Trucks showcased its concept FH XXL cab to an invited audience.

“We are extremely excited to be introducing the FH XXL cab concept here in Australia,” said Mitch Peden, Vice President of Volvo Truck Australia. “As always, we have been listening closely to our customers and there has been a strong and clear demand for this product.” Read more

Autonomous Trucks On Our Streets

Autonomous Trucks On Our Streets

When can we expect to see autonomous trucks on our streets? Right now apparently, this is a Volvo garbage truck actually working on a residential street in Sweden.

 

 

When Diesel News took a trip on public roads in this autonomous Freightliner, a couple of years ago, the moment when the driver pressed the button, let go of the wheel and handed over control to the truck, sent a shiver down the spine:

 

Here we have the Otto autonomous truck from the US. This company, now owned by Uber, is currently in a legal wrangle with Google over technology patents:

 

Here is where it all started, in the mining industry. There have been autonomous trucks hauling large loads out of mine sites in Australia for quite a few years now. Out of sight and out of mind, to the general public:


 

Volvo Tweaks Engine Offering

Volvo Tweaks Engine Offering

In the European market, Volvo tweaks engine offering. It has tweaked its Euro 6 engines and FH cab aerodynamics in what it describes as, “…yet another step on the path to efficient transportation.”

Volvo Tweaks Engine Offering

It goes on to say changes to its Euro 6 ‘C’ D13 engine (fitted in FH and FM) represent, “A perfect example of how several small advances together can result in a big improvement.” The two most significant updates under the shed are the adoption of a higher compression ratio on the 420 and 460hp versions of the D13 six-pot and a new optimised turbocharger on 500 and 540 hp D13 variants.

It’s also put the FH back into a wind tunnel to find new ways to improve its cab’s aerodynamics. As a result it’s fine-tuned the front bumper spoiler, top cab air deflector panels, mudguards and mud flaps as well as the wheel arches, a key source of aerodynamic loss according to Volvo. By reducing the gap between the wheel arch and steer axle tyre, the Swedes have reduced those aerodynamic ‘leakage’ losses and lowered the amount of turbulence around the wheel.

Volvo Tweaks Engine Offering

Likewise, by optimising the shape of the FH’s front bumper spoiler the air stream is now deflected away from the underside of the truck, a notorious area for creating turbulence and drag, to around the side of the truck where it can be better controlled. However, by making the lower part of the bumper of a softer material neither ground clearance or approach angles have been compromised. Similarly the air flow between the back of the FH cab and the front of the trailer has been improved through the use of flexible elements in the corners of the top cab deflector.

An indication of just how far truck designers and aerodynamicists are going in order to save fuel is the fact that the latest FH now has optimised mudguards. According to the company, “By applying variant matching of the mudguards and mud flaps according to the size of the wheels, greater aerodynamic efficiency is achieved without the protective function being impaired.”

Once again the savings aren’t massive, but when you add the improved FH cab aerodynamics to the latest Euro 6 C D13 engine tweaks, Volvo reckons you can make a fuel saving of up to three percent on regional and long-haul work. When you consider all the low-hanging fruit (like eco-driver training, improved routing and scheduling with telematics, low-rolling resistance tyres and improved trailer and bodywork aerodynamics) has already been picked off the fuel-savings tree, an extra three percent off your fuel bill represents a significant saving, especially to a fleet running more than 10 trucks.

There’s another reason too, at least in the UK, why every little fuel-saving matters. According to the latest survey of the UK’s Top 100 road transport operators from leading UK industry newspaper, Motor Transport, in 2015 the average return on sales for those hundred players, which includes major European and global logistics companies, was a modest 3.17 percent. The good news is that it’s up on the previous year’s 2.61 percent. So when the chairman says, “We need to make more profit from our business,” it’s hardly surprising those little incremental savings at the pump created by the manufacturers start to look increasingly attractive….and that hard-pressed European hauliers are grabbing them with both hands.

 

Thinking About Training New Drivers

Thinking About Training New Drivers

One of the truck manufacturers which has been thinking about training new drivers is Volvo. The company has been developing its training system over the years and has declared its intention to work towards some kind of certification for drivers to enable for them to demonstrate their professional ability. Although still in its early stages, Volvo have declared their intention to take on the issue of driver availability and professionalism.

Thinking About Training New Drivers

“It has moved a little bit,” said Paul Illmer, Volvo Director Vehicle Sales Strategy and Support. “It used to be all about the handover. It was to make sure the driver was aware of the basic functions of the truck and to make sure, when they get the keys and go on the first trip, they know how to operate the truck in the correct manner.

“Then it moved to much more focus on safety, making sure the driver is driving in a safe manner, anticipating traffic and was also fuel efficient. From there it moved to making sure they were fuel efficient, safe, but also courteous.

“We do a lot now with the drivers about being ambassadors for their company. It’s an interesting term, but it’s to make sure they are aware their role as a driver is to be courteous to car drivers, bicycle riders. They need to make sure when they interact with their customer’s customers, they portray the best image they can for their customer, but also for the driving population of Australia.”

Volvo is still formulating its way forward, but does have the intention of driving some kind of national qualification, a passport drivers can take with them to assure potential employers they are responsible and able to drive in the correct manner.

“A development from what we have got would be an academy,” says Illmer. “It would be formalising what we get. What we do today is training drivers who are already employed in a customers business, but what we are trying to get to with a driver academy is to take somebody who has got the license then put them through the programs.

“Today, we are able to put a driver in with a customer who has been through the fuel efficiency course, through the ambassador type course and is safe, keeping the truck safe. From day one when they start with the customer they already have these tools in their back pocket.

“What we are looking at doing later this year is bringing the top driver trainers in major fleets, sitting them down with our driver trainers. Then bring in someone from NTI, someone from the ATA and not make it a Volvo Group initiative, but actually sit down and talk about what we are offering in terms of course material. We can then look at what is developing as the course requirements in the market. We can then ensure we are dynamic enough to work with what the expectations are in the market. I think that’s very important.”

Thinking About Training New Drivers

Driver Shortage Issue

The, so-called, driver shortage issue comes from the way drivers are treated and regarded in the industry and in wider society. Another issue is the distinct lack of women working in the industry. An initiative, started by Volvo to help improve the driver’s lot aims to address the issue of getting more female truck drivers out on the highway armed with the skills the industry needs.

 

In looking into the overall question, one of the obvious issues in trying to develop an initiative to help was the lack of any real data on the subject. There is plenty of anecdotal talk about perceptions around drivers but very little cold hard fact.

 

Driver Shortage Issue

 

As a result, Volvo Boss, PeterVoorhoeve, commissioned a survey and report in collaboration with Clemenger BBDO. The report points to two basic issues, negative driver image and a lack of driver training.

 

“Truck driving is not perceived as a desirable profession due to being away from home, long hours, work/life balance, pay and negative perception in the media,” listed the report. “There are barriers for younger drivers, such as limited training opportunities, no nationally recognised qualification, high cost of obtaining a heavy vehicle licence, limited progression of licence classes and limited flexibility in work hours.

 

“Higher insurance premiums are creating a barrier for employers to employ younger drivers. There are barriers for female drivers, such as the lack of female-friendly amenities and limited flexible work hours for parents.”

 

The survey was carried out using Volvo’s database of key members of the industry. 20 in depth interviews took a snapshot of the situation and a further online survey of 547 people involved in the trucking industry, formed the data on which the report is based. Overall the survey received data relating to 34,000 drivers.

 

Finding a driver shortage will come as no surprise to anyone. Operators are reporting a shortage in both the quantity and quality of driver out there in the marketplace. They also identified the poor driver image as contribution to the paucity in the availability of quality drivers.

 

Driver image does not reflect the modern professional truck driver, it is still stuck in the past. The gap between leaving school and actually being able to drive a truck for a living is also an issue. Long hours, stress, low pay and spending a lot of time away from home don’t help on this count either. The driver population was identified as being without diversity and with little inclusion.

 

Improvements to the situation and image include strict uniform codes like collared shirts, improving the quality and comfort of their trucks and working to improve internal company pride with internal awards and public recognition. Accountability for the drivers is on the increase, with electronic monitoring and positioning drivers as ambassadors for the company, better pay and promoting a better work/life balance.

 

Of those operators surveyed, the average number of drivers employed was nine. The average age came out at 47, with 15 per cent of drivers being under 30. 52 per cent of companies did not have a driver under 30. 24 per cent of those surveyed had a female driver.

 

46 per cent of firms say the are currently experiencing a driver shortage. 52 per cent are having problems attracting the quantity of drivers need, but 82 per cent report issues in attracting the right quality off driver. 90 per cent want better pathways for young people into trucking and 92 per cent call for the industry to improve driver image.

 

The negative image factor was identified by 88 per cent of respondents as a problem. 72 per cent reported being frustrated with the perception of driver image in those outside the transport industry.

 

A number of quotes from respondents are include in the report:

  • “At times treated like second class citizens.”
  • “Everyone thinks truck drivers are cowboys and are unsafe on the roads.”
  • “It is widely considered that it is an industry that accepts persons with a lower level of education and moral standards.”

 

There is also a profound belief the negative image of drivers effects the number of driver available, young people coming into the industry, the appeal of truck driving to women and the diversity in the workforce.

 

A story from the Pilbara with good news about driver training can be found in the next issue of Diesel. 

 

Sophisticated Electronics Is The Name Of The Game

Sophisticated Electronics Is The Name Of The Game

Sophisticated electronics is the name of the game in modern trucks, especially those originating in Europe. Taking a Volvo FH on the road from Melbourne gives a driver time to have a look round the dashboard and marvel at all of sophisticated systems are now included in the latest trucks. These may be ignored by the traditionalists, but they are becoming more and more a part of the modern trucking experience.

 

We may try and turn them off and live without them, if we really want to, but the time is coming when there will be no choice, all of the safety systems and monitoring will be on as a default. We may as well get used to them and learn exactly what they do for us.

 

Sophisticated Electronics Is The Name Of The Game

 

A quick scan along the switches and screens in the FH cabin shows a wide array. Starting in the top left corner, the DAS Driver Alert System is monitoring the drivers steering habits, when they cross the line marking on the road. If the steering becomes erratic enough it brings up a warning in the dash. The display will start telling the driver they may need to take a break or at minimum start to concentrate better on their driving.

 

The adaptive cruise control warning comes next. When the truck is getting too close to a vehicle in front, it will activate the auxiliary brakes, the exhaust and engine braking. If the trailers have electronic stability control, then the truck will engage service brakes to a certain extent. None of these levels of reaction will bring the truck to a halt.

 

Also, if the vehicle in front is stationary the system will ignore it. This may appear foolhardy, but it also means the system will not mistake a roadside sign on a bend for another vehicle and put all of the anchors on.

 

The following distance can be set by the driver from the steering wheel control cluster, one of many, the Volvo steering wheel has 18 switches and 25 functions. The following distance can be adjust in 0.75 of a second intervals, up to a maximum of four seconds.

 

Another control activates the blindspot monitor and the lane change support function. Turn on the indicator and if there is somebody or something in the vicinity of the truck’s passenger door, it will sound an audible alarm and also illuminate a visual alarm (a red light) mounted on the passenger side A pillar.

 

Lane keep support helps the driver to keep the truck’s position in the lane. As the truck’s wheels approach a white line an audible alarm gives the driver the impression they are driving over a rumble strip. These types of system can be useful out on the open highway but become annoying in city areas, especially those like Sydney, with narrow lanes on major arterials. The answer from Volvo is the system works only at speeds over 60 km/h.

 

The driver trainers will constantly tell us the safety systems must not be turned off. However, in the real world, for most drivers, if a safety feature goes off too often and especially when not needed, it will get turned off.

New World Truck Speed Record

Here we see a Volvo setting a new world truck speed record at a closed track in Sweden breaking the previous record, also set in a Volvo. Commentator on the video is Diesel’s European Correspondent Brian Weatherly, flying over the course in a helicopter and running down the events for us.

 

Volvo Trucks’ The Iron Knight, driven by Boije Ovebrink, now holds the official speed records for the 500 and 1000 metre distances. During their work on the truck, a team from Volvo Trucks found innovative ways of uniting technology with design.

 

New World Truck Speed Record

 

“This shows that our I-Shift Dual Clutch transmission has enormous potential and that it does not let you down under extreme conditions,” said Claes Nilsson, President and CEO of Volvo Trucks. “The fact that the world record-breaker uses the very same gearbox that is found in our series-built FH trucks is something that we’re really proud of.”

 

With an average speed of 169 km/h and a time of 21.29 seconds, The Iron Knight beat the international speed record for 1000 metres from a standing start. It also beat the corresponding record for the 500-metre distance, at 131.29 km/h and 13.71 seconds. The record run was carried out on a closed-off test track in northern Sweden. Currently, the records are being reviewed by the FIA, the international motor sport association.

 

IronKnight_Main_24_aug_11

 

“Specialists from several different Volvo Trucks departments worked closely together to develop a truck with unsurpassed performance,” said Olof Johansson, a technician at Volvo Trucks. “Apart from Volvo Trucks’ powertrain, which is the heart and soul of The Iron Knight, we’ve hand-built the truck from the ground up. The fact that we succeeded in securing not just one record but two is absolutely amazing.”

 

New World Truck Speed Record
Boije Ovebrink, who has more than 30 years’ experience of both car and truck racing.

 

Behind the wheel of The Iron Knight was Boije Ovebrink, who has more than 30 years’ experience of both car and truck racing. He has previously beaten five speed records and in 1994 was European Truck Racing Champion.

 

“Volvo Trucks’ The Iron Knight can be summarised in one single word: perfection,” said Boije Ovebrink. “It’s beautiful to look at and is an unparalleled powerhouse when you floor the accelerator. This is the third record-breaking truck I’ve driven, and I can’t think of a better follow-up to Wild Viking and Mean Green.”

 

 

 

2400 hp Truck To Take On World Record

Volvo has unveiled a 2400 hp truck to take on world record speed attempts, but is holding back showing of the video of the event until August 24. The Iron Knight is the result of cooperation between technicians, engineers and designers at Volvo Trucks.

 

August 23 is the date, announced a few weeks back by Scania, for the unveiling of an all new truck model. The timing of the video release appears to be a part of an ongoing public relations tussle between the two Swedish truck makers, over many years.

 

2400 hp Truck To Take On World Record

 

With the exception of the engine and its series-built I-Shift Dual Clutch transmission, the truck is entirely custom-built. With 2400 hp on tap, the truck will attempt to set new international speed records. The powertrain is based on the same unit fitted in a road-going Volvo FH, but the engine has been pushed to its limits to produce maximum power.

 

“The Iron Knight is the perfect way to showcase the competence and innovative power of Volvo Trucks, said Claes Nilsson, Executive Vice President Volvo Group and President Volvo Trucks. “At the same time, our aim was to generate new insights into technical and design solutions. The intention is to transfer some of these to our series-produced trucks.”

 

2400 hp Truck To Take On World Record

 

The engine in the truck is a mid-mounted and significantly modified Volvo D13 unit with water-cooled intercooler and four turbochargers, producing 2400 hp and 6000 Nm of torque. The electric and electronic systems have been scaled down and the software has been re-programmed.

 

The only adjustment to the gearbox is its reinforced clutch, which is necessary to handle the remarkably high torque.

 

“The cab is made of fibreglass and designed to cut air resistance to an absolute minimum,” said Nigel Atterbury, Senior Designer at Volvo Trucks. “The side-skirts give the truck an impressive stance with their large air ducts that supply the engine with cooling-air. The Iron Knight has an attractive and powerful design inspired by today’s Volvo FH. You just have to look at the vehicle to realise that this is a truly fast truck. Even when it’s at a standstill it looks like it’s on the move.”

 

Every Little Bit Helps for Volvo

According to Diesel’s European Correspondent, every little bit helps for Volvo to improve fuel consumption on its models.

 

Volvo recently tweaked its Euro 6 engines and FH cab aerodynamics in what it describes as, “…yet another step on the path to efficient transportation.” It goes on to say that changes to its Euro 6 ‘C’ D13 engine (fitted in FH and FM) represent “A perfect example of how several small advances together can result in a big improvement.”

 

Designers put the FH back into a wind tunnel to find new ways to improve its cab’s aerodynamics. As a result it’s fine-tuned the front bumper spoiler, top cab air deflector panels, mudguards and mud flaps as well as the wheel arches, a key source of aerodynamic loss according to Volvo. By reducing the gap between the wheel arch and steer axle tyre, the Swedes have reduced those aerodynamic ‘leakage’ losses and lowered the amount of turbulence around the wheel.

 

Every Little Bit Helps for Volvo

 

Likewise, by optimising the shape of the FH’s front bumper spoiler the air stream is now deflected away from the underside of the truck, a notorious area for creating turbulence and drag, to around the side of the truck where it can be better controlled. However, by making the lower part of the bumper of a softer material neither ground clearance or approach angles have been compromised. Similarly the air flow between the back of the FH cab and the front of the trailer has been improved through the use of flexible elements in the corners of the top cab deflector.

 

Read more about these developments, and more from around Europe in the September/October issue of Diesel. You can catch Brian Weatherley’s ‘Eurobureau’ regularly in every issue of Diesel.