Volvo Trucks reveals future freight transportation concept using autonomous electric vehicles


Volvo Trucks has presented its vision of a future freight transportation industry where fleets of connected and autonomous electric tractor-trailer units travel in platooned convoys between regional logistics hubs, controlled by computers in a central transportation operations center.

Growing urban populations, increased consumer demands, the rapid growth of e-commerce, and the widespread shortage of truck drivers, will place greater demands on future freight transportation networks. Volvo Trucks has unveiled a new freight transportation concept consisting of autonomous electric commercial vehicles that contribute to more efficient, safer and cleaner movement of goods.

The long-term goal is to offer companies that need continuous transportation services between fixed hubs a complement to current systems. Volvo’s future transportation solution is intended to be used for regular and repetitive tasks characterized by relatively short distances, large volumes of goods and high delivery precision, such as movement between logistics hubs.

At the heart of the system is the ‘Vera’ concept truck, a cab-less, connected and autonomous tractor unit that is compatible with existing load carriers/trailers. Vera’s propulsion is entirely electric, with zero emissions and low noise levels, and uses the same type of driveline and battery pack that is fitted to Volvo’s existing electric trucks.

Equipped with sophisticated autonomous systems, the vehicles are designed to locate their current position to within centimeters, monitor in detail and analyze what is happening with other road users, and then respond with high accuracy. Multiple vehicles operating on the same route will form platoons to create optimal air flow and reduce power consumption.

The freight delivery operation is handled by fleets of Vera vehicles linked to a cloud service and a transportation control center, which continuously monitors 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 are tailored to avoid unnecessary waiting and to increase delivery precision. In the near future, Volvo’s transportation concept will be further developed together with selected customers in prioritized applications.

“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,” noted Claes Nilsson, president of Volvo Trucks.

“In order to secure a smoothly functioning goods flow system we also need to exploit existing infrastructure better than currently. The transportation system we are developing can be an important complement to today’s solutions and can help meet many of the challenges faced by society, transportation companies and transporation buyers.”

Volvo’s vice president of autonomous solutions, Mikael Karlsson, added, “Our system can be seen as an extension of the advanced logistics solutions that many industries already apply today. 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 utilizes existing road infrastructure and load carriers, making it easier to recoup costs and allowing for integration with existing operations.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).