Historic day for UD in Japan
Big Rigs was on hand to see an autonomous first
BIG Rigs travelled to Japan last month to witness the country’s historic first active demonstration of an autonomous truck.
A rigid UD Quon had been fitted with radar, lidar (light image detection and ranging), GPS and cameras to manage the truck’s guidance package sufficiently for autonomous driving. But it still required a driver on board to monitor systems.
A quick recap: The five levels of transport autonomy range from levels one and two, which are human controlled with an increasing rate of on-board electronics to assist, to levels three to four, which are controlled by the truck with a decreasing rate of human involvement, and finally level five, where no human interaction is required at all.
In effect, you could always recognise a level five autonomous truck – it wouldn’t have a steering wheel. The best example of a level five system so far is Volvo’s experimental Vera prime mover, which is a turntable-height platform with no cab at all.
The autonomous Quon we saw at the Ageo plant was far from that, looking little different to the Quons that shuffle containers around Australian wharves and scurry around construction sites.
But a close look revealed the aerials and sensors that were linked to the engine ECU, the steering box and brake system to give the truck an (almost) independent brain.
The demonstration was around a fixed course with a range of obstacles representing loading docks, parking spots and corners of buildings.
As we watched the demonstration begin, the driver removed his hands from the wheel, holding them up in the air for the duration of the demo. Quon accelerated, turned, stopped, reversed and parked, all with an accuracy of just over 2cm clearance, although it was a little slow.
Similar technology is of course already in Australia, helping to cart hundreds of thousands of tonnes of iron ore at most of the major iron ore minesites.
The autonomy there still requires a 200 tonne dump truck to wait at the loading location, where the operator of the loader takes remote control of the tipper and places it in the best position for loading.
But for on-road, or active depot applications, the picture is a lot more complex. UD engineers told us that the system is currently designed to use in confined areas.
That could probably mean defined areas, as the size of the task isn’t as important as the strength of the GPS signal and sufficient light to allow the cameras to accurately ‘see’ the terrain.
We spent some time talking to Douglas Nakano, the head of the design team responsible for the truck.
A Brazilian-born Japanese software and mechanical engineer, he has been a key player in the process of reforming UD truck engineering into an innovation team that is setting the pace in quality management in the Volvo Group network of companies.
Nakano heads up an entity
With one of UD’s strongest overseas markets, we’re in line for some logistics excitement.
called UD Trucks Technology, or UDTT, which is modelled on the Global Trucks Technology (GTT) section within Volvo.
GTT has relinquished an unprecedented level of independence to UDTT for the Japanese domestic market due to the quality of its work.
In fact, UD’s Quon and the factory it is built in at Ageo northwest of Tokyo, have both acheived the internal Volvo Group Platinum standard for quality. However, even with all that competence, the question remains – what is the point of truck autonomy?
The point is, it’s becoming a necessity.
So much so that as far as Japan is concerned, the Japanese Government has become actively involved in the development of logistics systems that will accommodate the growing delivery task, the shrinking population, CO2 management and an escalating driver shortage.
There is also a strong impetus to get to autonomy faster, given that research has determined that a fully autonomous road transport system would reduce accidents by nearly 90 per cent.
In the US, studies reveal that US$119 billion could be saved each year if trucks were fully automated.
Full autonomy involves three critical elements. Firstly, the quality of data input, from cameras, radar and lidar. Secondly, the quality of decision making by tailored software, and finally the automation systems.
UD is now in the unique position of being able to roll out various levels of autonomy in the Japanese domestic market.
ON ITS OWN: UD is now in the unique position of being able to roll out various levels of autonomy in the Japanese domestic market.
The driver held his hands in the air for the demo.
Douglas Nakano (right) with UD’s Global Tech team.