Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Volvo developing autonomous logistics vehicles

Steve Rogerson
October 3, 2018

Volvo Trucks is developing autonomous electric commercial vehicles that can carry goods between fixed logistics hubs.
Growing world population and increasing urbanisation are leading to significant challenges to solve environmental problems such as congestion, pollution and noise. Rising consumption, the fast growth of e-commerce and the wide-spread shortage of drivers create higher demands for efficient transportation.
"The full potential of the transport industry is yet to be seen," said Claes Nilsson, president of Volvo Trucks. “Everything suggests that the global need for transportation will continue to significantly increase in the coming decade. If we are to meet this demand in a sustainable and efficient way, we must find new solutions. To secure a smoothly functioning goods flow system we also need to exploit existing infrastructure better than currently. The transport system we are developing can be an important complement to today's solutions and can help meet many of the challenges faced by society, transport companies and transport buyers.”
Volvo Trucks' future transportation plan is intended to be used for regular and repetitive tasks characterised by relatively short distances, large volumes of goods and high delivery precision. Transports between logistic hubs are typical examples, but additional use cases can also be applicable.
"Our system can be seen as an extension of the advanced logistics that many industries already apply today," said Mikael Karlsson, Volvo vice president. “Since we use autonomous vehicles with no exhaust emissions and low noise, their operation can take place at any time of day or night. The solution utilises existing road infrastructure and load carriers, making it easier to recoup costs and allowing for integration with existing operations.”
The operation will be handled by autonomous electric vehicles linked to a cloud service and a transport control centre. The vehicles will be equipped with autonomous driving systems and designed to locate their current position to within centimetres, monitor in detail and analyse what is happening with other road users, and then respond with accuracy.
The transport control centre will continuously monitor the progress of the transport and keep an accurate watch of each vehicle's position, the batteries' charge, load content, service requirements and a number of other parameters. As with an industrial production process, speed and progress will be tailored to avoid unnecessary waiting and to increase delivery precision. In this way, it will be possible to reduce waste in the form of buffer stocks, and increase availability. Vehicles that operate on the same route can cooperate to create optimal flow.
In the near future, Volvo Trucks' transport plan will be further developed with selected customers in prioritised applications.
The transport system will consist of autonomous, connected, electric vehicles and a transport control centre. The vehicles will be used as tractor units and be compatible with existing load carriers and trailers. The propulsion will be entirely electric with zero exhaust emissions and low noise levels. The driveline and battery pack will be of the same type that are used in Volvo Trucks' electric lorries.