Kyodo, Japan – UD Trucks, a unit of Volvo Group has conducted the first level 4 autonomous truck demonstration in Japan.
Along with logistics firm Nippon Express and Hokkaido agriculture cooperative Hokuren, UD Trucks demonstrated the use of advanced autonomous driving technology in the handling of farm produce at one of Hokkaido’s leading agriculture processing facilities, an important initiative that can help address a shortage of truck drivers as the country’s work force contracts.
The demonstration took place at the Hokuren Sugar Refining Mill in Nakashari, Hokkaido. In the trial, a Level 4 (L4) autonomous vehicle from UD Trucks simulated the transport of sugar beets through the facility and surroundings in an event attended by an estimated 150 key stakeholders, including senior executives from the partner firms, agriculture industry representatives, government officials and the news media. In a first for heavy-duty trucks in Japan, the trial included autonomous driving on a public road adjacent to the facility, a development made possible through the cooperation of relevant authorities.
Along with logistics firm Nippon Express and Hokkaido agriculture cooperative Hokuren, UD Trucks demonstrated the use of advanced autonomous driving technology
The trial program, which ran from August 5 to 30, demonstrated how produce can be moved through the processing center. A specially adapted L4 heavy-duty Quon vehicle from UD Trucks operated on a typical delivery route from the entrance to the produce acceptance area, interim storage and the final unloading area at an average speed of 20 kph. The route included a distance of 200 meters on a public road (National Route 334).
The Quon vehicle also employed Network-based RTK-GPS (Real Time Kinematic Global Positioning System), an advanced version of GPS that allows for a high localization accuracy. By combining Network-RTK with autonomous driving technology, it is possible to achieve higher precision in vehicle operation even in bad weather or on poor road conditions.
These systems were put to the test under conditions that replicate actual operating environments and thereby show the feasibility for real-world autonomous driving technology applications.
In 2018, UD Trucks announced its innovation roadmap “Fujin & Raijin. Vision 2030” that aims to deliver a variety of solutions for Smart Logistics, including fully-electric and autonomous trucks by 2030.
“We are confident that L4 technology for heavy-duty trucks will make logistics smarter when it comes to repetitive work in confined areas including large scale farming, in-plant and port operations,” said UD Trucks Senior Vice President of Technology Douglas Nakano. “Utilizing data collected from this trial, we will perfect our trucks to meet the most stringent demands for different types of operations, helping support more sustainable food production and the Japanese agricultural industry as a whole. We also aim to apply what we learn here today to larger scale applications.”
Widespread implementation of this technology is also a key area of focus for Nippon Express, which established its own Logistics Engineering Strategy Office in 2017. The company has been active across a broad range of areas, including truck platooning using automated driving technology, unmanned logistics centers that reduce labor costs, and logistics solutions that utilize artificial intelligence (AI), drones and advanced tracking systems.
“We have been working hard, together with our customers, to improve the efficiency of logistics, but the shortage of drivers has become more and more serious,” said Nippon Express Executive Vice President, Chief Operation Officer and Representative Director Hisao Taketsu. “If an automated truck can be used for repetitive tasks, such as transporting cargo along the same route, it will lead to labor-saving and higher efficiency. We also expect this kind of technology can be applied more easily in large-scale confined areas such as factories, container ports and airports. We would like to look deeper into the practical applications of autonomous driving technology in various business areas, based on the outcome of this latest trial.”