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Aurora and Volvo Roll Out New Self-Driving Truck for Future Freight

ByHuey Yee Ong

May 22, 2024

Aurora and Volvo Roll Out New Self-Driving Truck for Future Freight

Aurora Innovation and Volvo Autonomous Solutions have introduced a groundbreaking self-driving truck, the Volvo VNL Autonomous, which promises to shape the future of driverless freight transport. Unveiled at the ACT Expo in Las Vegas, this truck is slated to hit public highways by this summer, starting its journey with a human safety operator ready to intervene if necessary.

This move aligns with Aurora’s strategic goal to commercialize self-driving trucks by the end of 2024, and it plans to begin freight operations between Dallas and Houston using up to 20 driverless Class 8 trucks without human operators later in the process.

Manufacturing and Testing Begin

Manufacturing of the initial test fleet of the Volvo VNL Autonomous is underway at Volvo’s New River Valley assembly facility in Virginia. Aurora anticipates deploying these trucks for freight hauling within the next several months and expects to launch pilot programs with customer participation later this year.

The company’s push towards a driverless future comes amid significant shifts in the autonomous vehicle (AV) industry, including the cessation of Waymo Via’s self-driving truck program and TuSimple’s pivot to the Asian market. Despite these challenges and the high-capital costs associated with developing and launching autonomous trucks—which led to a 3% workforce reduction earlier this year—Aurora is advancing its commercial ambitions.

The industry has seen considerable consolidation, leaving fewer competitors such as Einride, Torc, and Kodiak Robotics, which recently introduced its own purpose-built self-driving big rig.

Aurora’s Key Partners

Aurora’s partnership with Volvo, initiated in March 2021, forms a crucial part of its plan to bring autonomous trucks to market. Aurora has also been collaborating with logistics giants like FedEx, Ryder, Schneider, and Uber Freight through pilot programs.

In January, Aurora and Continental, an automotive supplier, completed the first phase of a project exceeding $300 million aimed at mass-producing AV hardware for commercial use. They finalized the design and system architecture of an AV hardware kit and developed a blueprint for a secondary computer that could take over in case of system failure. Although this hardware kit will not be integrated into Aurora trucks until 2027, the current Volvo VNL model is equipped with an array of safety features.

The Volvo VNL Autonomous is equipped with several advanced safety features designed to ensure reliability and safety:

  • Redundant Systems: Steering, braking, communication, computation, power management, energy storage, and vehicle motion management.
  • Aurora Driver Integration: The truck features the Aurora Driver, enhancing its autonomous capabilities with:
    • Dual computers
    • Self-driving software
    • Proprietary lidar that detects objects over 1,300 feet away
    • High-resolution cameras and imaging radar

Shahrukh Kazmi, Chief Product Officer at Volvo Autonomous Solutions, highlighted the truck’s design, emphasizing that it was built from the ground up with these redundancy systems to ensure each safety-critical component is duplicated, significantly enhancing safety and reliability.

As the partnership between Aurora and Volvo progresses, the companies aim to validate this platform and eventually commence fully driverless operations with a modest-sized fleet of these trucks.

Although specific timelines for these developments remain under wraps, the companies plan to scale up to high-volume production of the Volvo VNL integrated with the Aurora Driver in the coming years, aiming to solidify their stance in the rapidly evolving AV landscape.

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Featured Image courtesy of Aurora Innovation

Huey Yee Ong

Hello, from one tech geek to another. Not your beloved TechCrunch writer, but a writer with an avid interest in the fast-paced tech scenes and all the latest tech mojo. I bring with me a unique take towards tech with a honed applied psychology perspective to make tech news digestible. In other words, I deliver tech news that is easy to read.

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