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On July 12th 2018, Einride, a Swedish developer of L4 autonomous trucks announced a new product: an electric, autonomous logging truck (live premiere of Goodwood launch).
Designed to transport logs from a forestry head to a timber mill, pulp plant or storage facility, the T-log has an electric range of close to 200km and a carrying capacity of 16 tonnes. Whilst only a prototype, Einride is aiming to have the vehicle in service in 2019.
Einride’s value proposition is to disrupt the freight industry by taking the principles of factory automation – electrification, autonomy and product flow – and applying them to the movement of goods by road. Its aim is to substantially reduce the costs of moving goods and improve overall road safety.
There will be challenges along the way. Forestry routes can be inhospitable and hard to traverse, particularly if they have limited road markings or are dusty/icy. For an autonomous vehicle this presents a number of challenges and Einride will need to prove that its vehicle can handle these conditions. Fortunately, the T-log vehicle will feature remote operation (provided by Phantom Auto) if it becomes unable to operate by itself or finds conditions too tough.
Another challenge will be vehicle reliability and durability. Put very simply, forests can be cold and wet and logs are heavy. Modern log transporters have been designed over decades to be incredibly durable and robust. Einride will again need to prove out the reliability of the T-log and also take steps to ensure potential damage to the lithium battery is minimised.
Automating the forestry supply chain may spur automation at the forestry head too. Currently, forestry machines – loggers, fellers, etc. – are manually operated. Forests are complex environments and selecting and processing trees has, to date, required human input. However, manufacturers like John Deere are already starting to provide automation and intelligence on their machines to support their operators with location and harvest data. With a view on safety, it may be that an increasing amount of tasks are automated until the driver is eventually replaced altogether.
- The majority of automated or autonomous truck solutions focus on platooning and point-to-point freight, Einride included. However, the T-log breaks with this by being tailored for a very specific heavy-duty application. To date, this is a unique approach for on-road vehicles (it should be mentioned that autonomous mining trucks have been in use for a number of years). However, if it proves successful, other vocational applications such as dump trucks or cement mixers could be automated.
- Taking the principles of factory automation – electrification, autonomy and product flow – Einride is looking to disrupt the freight industry with significantly lower costs and a substantially different business model, consisting of freight-as-a-service.
- Key to success will be proving safe operation in challenging conditions and also product durability. However, given Einride’s aim is to replace drivers and be software focused, it may rely on truck/body builders with a focus on durability to build the T-log.