Swedish self-driving truck startup Einride is out with another eye-catching prototype. Much like the company’s first autonomous offering, the new T-Log is all-electric and completely driverless, and it completely lacks a front cab for human drivers. But unlike the T-Pod, the T-Log comes equipped with off-roading capabilities and is designed for one specific purpose: hauling tons of gigantic tree logs.
Unveiled on Thursday at the UK’s Goodwood Festival, the T-Log is more powerful than the T-Pod, and it’s designed to carry up to 16 tons of cargo. It can also navigate dense, uneven forest roads, the startup claims, making it ideally suited for logging purposes.
How exactly this truck with no human driver can handle unmarked, often dirt and gravel roads is pretty interesting. Most self-driving vehicles rely on a suite of sophisticated sensors, mapping data, and deep learning capabilities to handle the driving responsibilities. But even then, a majority of operators will stick to highly predictable environments, like suburban communities with robust roads and signage. (MIT recently proved that self-driving cars can successfully navigate rural, unmapped roads.)
Not Einride. The company says it is using Nvidia’s self-driving software to achieve Level 4 (meaning completely driverless within a set area) driving. The trucks can also be controlled by a remote operator who is located hundreds of miles away using Phantom Auto’s teleoperation technology. The use of this technology may help Einride overcome the hurdles presented by off-road driving.
The lack of a cab allows for more hauling capacity, as well as more efficiency out of the vehicle’s all-electric motor, Einride says. The T-Log’s 16kWh battery enables up to 120 miles of driving range. But we won’t get a definitive look at the heavy hauler until 2020 when Einride says it expects the T-Log to hit public roads.
Most experts believe that the first industry to be affected by autonomous driving will be the trucking sector. What better use case for driverless technology than long-haul trucking where most of the driving is confined to the highway? But Einride has a bolder vision that includes off-roading and heavy-duty cargo.
No doubt the image of a cab-less truck will further stoke fears that autonomous technology will lead to enormous displacement in the workforce. In the US, 4.4 million jobs are related to driving; of those, trucking jobs comprise about 2.5 million. A recent study found that automated trucks could reduce the demand for drivers by as much as 50 to 70 percent in the US and Europe by 2030, with 4.4 million of the 6.4 million professional drivers on both continents rendered obsolete.