IMAGINE living in a world with no road fatalities involving trucks, where children are free to run and play on the street while a refuse truck collects trash nearby and where your sleep is uninterrupted by the distribution truck unloading fresh vegetables at the store next door.
This is the world that Volvo Trucks strives to create through smart innovations in the field of electromobility and autonomous driving, both in its own development and through partnerships with city and country authorities around the world.
The manufacturer of trucks and heavy equipment based in Gothenburg, Sweden, believes that being part of the problem does not mean it cannot be part of the solution. After all, the journey towards a cleaner environment and safer roads means better business for its customers too.
“We are a Swedish company. In order for us to survive in this climate, we need to be very cautious about all the things we use. We need to be innovative and functional in order to survive.
“At the same time, we know that we live very close to nature. That has made us keen on taking care of the things around us. All of that is built into the foundation of the Volvo Group … the core values of quality, safety and environmental care,” says Helene Mellquist, senior vice-president of Volvo Trucks International.
Mellquist, who heads the sales and marketing of Volvo Trucks in markets other than Europe and the Americas, adds that the company’s innovative solutions for its trucks provides higher utilisation rates for its customers as there is higher uptime for the trucks.
During a media familiarisation trip to Gothenburg during a chilly summer, Volvo Trucks showcased some of the innovation that it has developed in the fields of electromobility and autonomous driving.
In the former category, Volvo Trucks has come up with two models of all-electric trucks for commercial use — the Volvo FL Electric for urban distribution and refuse operations, and the Volvo FE Electric for heavier distribution and refuse transport operations with gross weights of up to 27 tonnes. Sales and series production of the new models will start in Europe next year.
The all-electric trucks will contribute to lower noise and air pollution in cities, enabling customers to operate the trucks even in indoor terminals and environmental zones, as well as do more work at night, thus reducing road traffic during the day.
The first Volvo FE Electric — a refuse truck with a superstructure developed with Faun, Europe’s leading maker of refuse collection bodies — will start operating early next year in Germany’s second-largest city, Hamburg.
The model will be offered in several variants for different types of transport assignments. For instance, with Volvo’s low-entry cab, drivers will find it easier to enter and exit the cab and have a commanding view of surrounding traffic.
Critics argue that electric vehicles contribute towards polluting the earth because they use batteries, which are usually discarded when they have done their jobs.
However, Volvo Trucks collaborates with the Drive Sustainability network to ensure that electrification of the transport sector takes a holistic approach — from electricity generation to batteries. Drive Sustainability is an industrial initiative by 10 automotive companies to work together to improve the sustainability of the automotive supply chain. The Volvo Group, in which Volvo Trucks is a member, and the separate Volvo Car Corporation, are part of the initiative.
“For instance, in order to ensure that raw materials for the batteries are extracted in a responsible way, the Volvo Group works with the Drive Sustainability network, which has a special function that monitors this issue.
“The Volvo Group is also involved in various projects where batteries from heavy electric vehicles get a second lease of life and are reused for energy storage.
“All the questions about handling batteries have not yet been solved, but we are working actively both within the group and together with other actors to drive development and create the necessary solutions,” says Jonas Odermalm, Volvo Trucks head of product strategy, Volvo FL and Volvo FE.
Besides the electromobility solutions, Volvo Trucks is also developing autonomous solutions for its trucks. However, in doing so, the company believes that autonomous technology should be viewed as an assisting factor rather than replacing the functions of a driver.
Hayder Wokil, director of autonomous and automated driving at Volvo Trucks, says there are five levels of automation — driver-assistance, partial automation, conditional automation, high automation and full automation, where no driver is required at all.
Volvo Trucks’ current approach towards automation is up to conditional automation, whereby drivers are not required to have to see something before making a decision. For instance, the company has introduced a cloud-based service called Connected Safety, which allows Volvo trucks and cars to automatically alert each other to hazardous traffic situations. Alerts are sent out whenever a driver activates his vehicle’s hazard warning lights. It was first launched by Volvo Cars in 2016.
With Volvo Trucks now rolling out its version of the service, Volvo trucks and cars are able to alert each other to potential hazards. This is possible because the two companies share safety-related data between their respective clouds.
“Expanded cooperation between different players is one of the most important keys to improve road safety. If more vehicles are able to exchange real-time information about the traffic situation, it will lower the risk of accidents.
“With Connected Safety, we are opening the door to the future, with the hope that more vehicle manufacturers will join in,” says Carl Johan Almqvist, traffic and product safety director at Volvo Trucks.
To improve safety on the road involving Volvo trucks, the company has also developed an autonomous emergency braking system, which works in all environments, be it fog, darkness, sunshine or mist.
The system will be able to engage the emergency brake and bring the truck to a stop even at a speed of 80kp/h, which is more than quadruple the European Union’s requirement that trucks must have autonomous emergency braking systems at a speed of 20 kp/h.
The system starts working when there is a risk of collision, first alerting the driver via gradually escalating light and acoustic signals. If the system does not detect any response from the driver, the truck automatically starts braking gently.
If the driver still does not respond, the emergency brake is deployed until the vehicle comes to a complete standstill. After a further five seconds without any movement of the steering wheel or other reactions, the handbrake is automatically engaged, a safety measure to prevent the truck from rolling.
These are some of the innovative solutions that Volvo Trucks has come up with to look after the environment, safety of the drivers and other road users, and increase profitability for its customers.