His­toric day for UD in Ja­pan

Big Rigs was on hand to see an au­tonomous first

Big Rigs - - BIG RIGS | NEWS - David Mered­ith

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.

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