Swedish transport company Einride has just launched the world's first commercially available, electric, self-driving truck that is legally allowed on public roads. It's known as the "Pod".
What is the Pod?
The Pod is an Autonomous Electric Transport (AET) heavy goods vehicle. In short: it's an electric, self-driving truck and it comes in 4 versions:
The AET 4 is designed for "noncomplicated", "controlled journeys": highways and major roads, and is capable of driving up to 85 km/h (53 mph)!
The AET 3 is tailored to rural environments can travel up to 45 km/h (28 mph).
Both vehicles can carry up to 16 tons or 15 pallets, of cargo, have a range of 130 -180 km (81- 112 mi) and are capable of automated charging.
The product line is completed with the AET 1 & AET 2 (designed for enclosed or nearby locations).
Front and back of the Pod
Einride states that their aim is, not to replace 100% of trucks on the road. Instead they aim to create a vehicle that could perform 60-70% of heavy goods vehicle transportation needs.
What makes Einride's vehicles unique?
Currently, there are many examples of self-driving trucks and heavy goods vehicles. However, typically these vehicles operate off public roads: quarries, gated areas, or military application, etc. There is also nothing new about electric vehicles.
What is unique about the Pod is that it is the first to combine all of these elements into a single, public-road-legal, self-driving, heavy goods vehicle.
The Pod AET 4 at the start line of the Top Gear Track
On the 15th October the AET 4 went round the Top Gear Track (in the UK) where it set the record as the first electric, self-driving truck, achieving a princely 02:44:14. That makes it slower than a Brutus, but hey, the Brutus couldn't drive itself!
Without the need for details such as windscreens and doors, Einride were able to rethink what a truck should look like.
The truck is supposed to look like a bison from the side. Can you spot the resemblance?
The Pod is designed to resemble a bison from the side. Although you might have to squint a little to see the resemblance, it is still rather cute. The curved front and sides do, at least, give the vehicle improved aerodynamics.
When will you see them on the road?
If you want to get one, and of course everyone needs one... you can [now] order one... because who doesn't want to have a pod?...It will be very cool to have in your garage and showcase with friends! -- Robert Falck, CEO and founder of Einride.
AETs 1 & 2 will begin shipping to customers starting next year, AETs 3 & 4 and will ship to customers in 2022-2023.
Early backers include Lidl Sweeden and Oatly.
People are slow to trust new and unknown technologies, as it is natural to fight change and it will take time for the Pod and other similar projects to gain public trust and acceptance. Current legislation of autonomous vehicles is still in its infancy and varies wildly from country to country, it could take a long time before legislation catches up with the technology.
1# Reduced accidental deaths
Automated vehicles could reduce accidental deaths in the workplace. Truck driving is possibly one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet. In the EU transportation and storage is the second highest cause of work-based fatalities.
Self-driven vehicles have a proven safety record and let's face it, an automated vehicle isn't going to be sending text messages while it's driving. The technology isn't that sophisticated... yet.
#2 No need to rest
Self-driving vehicles can work almost continuously. They can continue to work throughout the night. In addition to this, automated vehicles do not get sick, spread viruses or turn up late for work.
However, with the current design, the Pods can not pass cargo automatically from one Pod to another while the batteries are charging.
#3 Reduced CO2
Electrical vehicles mean less CO2 emissions. Large trucks amount to around 3.9% -- 4.2% of total emissions in the European Union. Electric Heavy good vehicles could help the EU reach its target of a 15% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2025.
But remember: electrical vehicles are not a perfect solution. Electrical vehicles are still responsible for climate change and CO2 production, both during the manufacture of batteries and the production of electricity.
There is both a lot of excitement and a lot of uncertainty about autonomous trucking, but... We have a unique opportunity to make transport both exponentially safer and more sustainable. -- Robert Falck CEO of Einride.
Are truck drives going to have to retrain?
If you're a freight driver, you probably don't need to panic just yet. The Pod can only replace a maximum of 70% of transportation needs, is incapable of complicated journeys and the legislation that allows it to travel on public roads might not even exist in your country of residence just yet.
But maybe, we'll see more autonomous and electrical vehicles driving on the roads in the near future!