What Driverless Pods on Public Roads Mean for the Future of Transportation
The logistics industry’s latest development approved for a public roadway pilot is to the tune of an old, classic tale that goes something like:
“You got your autonomy in my electrification!”
“Well, you got your electrification in my autonomy!”
“Two great transportation advancements that go great together.”
It’s a combo that drivers in western Tennessee may soon grow accustomed to, as Swedish freight technology company Einride was recently granted a permit by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for a public road pilot project featuring its autonomous electric transport units, called “Pods”. These Pods were built without space for a driver within the unit; instead, a specially trained “remote driver” monitors the vehicle from afar and can take control if necessary.
The technology that the Pod depends upon isn’t yet up to snuff to handle complex, urban driving environments, Forbes contributor Ed Garsten writes in his June 23 article “Einride Gets Go-Ahead For Driverless Electric Trucks On Public Roads.” However, these vehicles have shown the aptitude for coordinating the movement of goods from warehouse to warehouse.
Importantly in the eyes of Einride, the Pod runs via an electric powertrain, and not simply to better control the vehicle’s emissions (though that is a handy side benefit). Instead, as the company’s CEO, Robert Falck, told Forbes, the autonomous vehicle is electric “because it’s the best business case.”
“Logistics creates cities, creates hubs, creates our history. If you look at cost competitiveness, the cheapest way to transport in the next 50 years, it will be autonomous and electric transport vehicles,” Falck says.
Why Electric and Autonomous Make a Great Logistics Pair
While there are plenty of applications that don’t yet mix with electrified powertrains, autonomous and electric vehicles may prove to be the perfect symbiotic relationship for two reasons.
The first is stability. Autonomous vehicles require more power than human-driven vehicles due to the extra computing hardware they carry. An electric vehicle’s battery is more capable of delivering balanced, steady power to the components that need it.
The second is optimization. Due to regenerative braking—where an electric vehicle converts kinetic energy while braking into usable energy down the road—a large portion of an EV’s range depends on the driver’s abilities. Autonomous vehicles can be programmed to sensibly maximize the power in an EV’s battery pack via regenerative braking.
Navigating the Future of Logistics
Einride’s Pods may be one small step for autonomous electric vehicles, but they may prove to be one giant leap for logistics. A successful pilot program by Einride could be the validation fleets need to improve their own operational efficiencies. And, as autonomous electrified vehicles evolve, bits and pieces of either or both technologies will begin finding their way into standard supply chain operations, such as into the trailer of heavy-duty trucks.
Whatever may be in store for transportation, Great Dane is ensuring fleets will be ready by installing FleetPulse telematics devices standard on all of its dry vans, reefers, and flatbeds. FleetPulse’s CAN harness allows the vehicle to collect and process the vast amounts of data necessary for autonomy in an automotive industry standard format, effectively making them future-proof.
Interested in other articles about evolving transportation trends? Check out this recent one about The Role of Connectivity in the Trucking Industry.