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Autonomous big rigs from Volvo and Aurora are coming to highways

Imagine you’re driving down the highway and all of a sudden a giant autonomous 18-wheeler truck pulls up alongside you. There’s no human in the driver’s seat, just sensors and a computer guiding this 40-ton behemoth along the road. Sounds a bit unsettling, right?

You’re not alone. Surveys show that 65% of people wouldn’t be comfortable sharing the road with a self-driving cargo truck. And can you blame them? The idea of ​​such large vehicles traveling at high speeds without any human control is understandably unsettling for most people.

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Volvo VNL Self-Driving Truck (Volvo) (Kurt “Cyberguy” Knutson)

Self-driving 18-wheel trucks will soon be on the roads

But that’s exactly what could be coming to a highway near you this summer, as Volvo and self-driving technology company Aurora team up to Volvo Vietnam Self-Driving Truck. This heavy-duty truck is packed with Aurora’s self-driving smart features and redundant safety systems.

While it may seem odd at first, their “self-driving trucks” will have a human safety operator on board, at least initially, who can take over if the autonomous system has a problem. Volvo plans to start hauling freight with its self-driving trucks in the coming months in preparation for wider commercial operations. And Volvo has already started building the first of its self-driving trucks at its factory in Virginia.

Volvo and Aurora self-driving heavy trucks hit the highway

Volvo VNL Self-Driving Truck (Volvo) (Kurt “Cyberguy” Knutson)

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Safety at the heart of Volvo VNL’s autonomous design

Volvo VNL Autonomous trucks are designed with safety in mind, and according to Volvo Autonomous Solutions, the platform engineering approach incorporates high-assurance redundant systems to mitigate potential emergency situations.

The truck is built from the ground up with integrated redundant systems for all safety-critical components including steering, braking, communications, computation, power management, energy storage, vehicle motion management, etc. The deliberate duplication of critical systems greatly enhances the safety and reliability of autonomous trucks.

The truck also integrates Aurora Driver, an autonomous driving system that includes dual computers, self-driving software, a custom-built LIDAR that can detect objects more than 1,300 feet away, high-resolution cameras and imaging radar.

Volvo and Aurora self-driving heavy trucks hit the highway

Volvo VNL Self-Driving Truck (Volvo) (Kurt “Cyberguy” Knutson)

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Volvo and Aurora move forward toward commercialization

The announcement of the Volvo VNL autonomous truck comes as the two companies continue to move toward their goal of commercially delivering autonomous trucks by the end of 2024. Volvo will initially use Class 8 trucks in autonomous mode with a safety driver at the helm to haul freight between Dallas and Houston.

Commercialization is an existential question for the last surviving self-driving truck companies, Volvo and Aurora. Last year, Waymo Via put the brakes on its self-driving truck plans, and Tusimple recently pulled out of the U.S. market in favor of expanding into Asia. Aurora has also not been able to escape the high capital costs of developing and launching a commercial self-driving truck. The company laid off 3% of its workforce in January to cut costs ahead of its commercial launch.

Consolidation in the AV industry has reduced Aurora’s competitors: Einride, Torc, and Kodiak Robotics, which has unveiled its own purpose-built self-driving heavy trucks, are the few companies left.

Volvo and Aurora self-driving heavy trucks hit the highway

Volvo VNL Self-Driving Truck (Volvo) (Kurt “Cyberguy” Knutson)

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Aurora’s commercialization strategy

The partnership with Volvo, which the two companies first signed in March 2021, is part of Aurora’s commercialization strategy. Aurora has launched pilot programs with logistics companies FedEx, Ryder, Schneider Electric and Uber Freight.

In January, Aurora and auto parts maker Continental completed the first phase of a more than $300 million project to mass-produce autonomous vehicle hardware for commercial self-driving trucks. The two companies finalized the design and system architecture for the AV hardware kit, as well as blueprints for a secondary computer that would take over operations in the event of a failure. Continental’s hardware kit won’t be installed in Aurora trucks until 2027, but the Volvo VNL will be loaded with safety features, the company said.

Volvo and Aurora self-driving heavy trucks hit the highway

Volvo VNL Self-Driving Truck (Volvo) (Kurt “Cyberguy” Knutson)

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Public acceptance is key

So, whether we’re ready for it or not, self-driving heavy trucks are likely to appear on American highways sooner than you think. The real question is: will the public’s safety concerns be alleviated? Will self-driving heavy trucks really make our roads safer and more efficient as proponents claim? Overcoming consumer skepticism about sharing the road with robotic driverless trucks is likely to be a major hurdle. Building public trust in the safety and reliability of this technology will be crucial for wider acceptance and adoption.

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Important points about the cart

The launch of the Volvo VNL Autonomous Truck marks a significant milestone toward the commercialization of self-driving trucks. With redundant safety systems and cutting-edge self-driving capabilities, the truck could pave the way for a self-driving future on highways across the U.S. — assuming the public can first overcome very real safety concerns.

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