Autonomous, self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise haulage and logistics sectors, particularly the long-haul, heavy-duty goods vehicle market. As a result, Hub2Hub, a project by UK-based hydrogen-powered commercial vehicle startup, Fusion Processing has been awarded £6.6 million to develop a world-first, zero-emission autonomous HGV for the UK market.
In an effort to accelerate the next generation of transportation and logistics, Hub2Hub will develop a self-driving heavy goods tractor unit that will begin road trials in 2024 with major UK retailer, ASDA, overseeing the development.
CCAV (Center for Connected Autonomous Vehicles) selected the £12 million venture as one of seven recipients of their joint industry and government funding. With Hub2Hub, logistics operators will be able to achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency, safety, and operational cost savings, as well as find new employment opportunities.
First hydrogen-electric HGV prototype
As per the company presser, two prototypes will be built by the consortium led by HVS, Fusion Processing Ltd, and ASDA. The first hydrogen-electric HGV prototype will be fitted with a driver’s cab and tested on the road in autonomous operation using the Bristol-based company’s Automated Drive System, CAVStar, with a human safety driver at the wheel.
In the second prototype, the driver’s cab will be replaced by an aerodynamic fairing. As part of this project, the vehicle will be evaluated on test tracks using the CAVStar system, which allows a remote human driver to operate it from a central control hub.
Combined, these two prototypes point to a future logistics system in which autonomous vehicles could be driven on hub-to-hub routes, with a remote driver taking control of the vehicle between hubs.
As well as decarbonising one of the most polluting vehicle sectors on the road, HVS’s innovative HGV will accelerate Hub-to-Hub automated driving development. Fusion, founded in 2012, is an expert in autonomous vehicles, and the collaboration will use the company’s advanced CAVstar system. With the help of vision systems, artificial intelligence, and route planning, a fully autonomous vehicle can take over from a driver and hand back control at pre-determined stops.
Fusion Processing CEO Jim Hutchinson said: “Our market analysis indicates that the commercial vehicle segments such as haulage are where we will see autonomous vehicle technology first used in large scale deployments. Hub2Hub is a perfect showcase of what the advanced version of our CAVstar Automated Drive System can achieve. Combining SAE Level 4 autonomous driving with tele-operation to deliver safer and more efficient vehicle operations.”
HVS CEO Jawad Khursheed commented: “A transport revolution is taking place in the UK and HVS, together with the consortium, is at the forefront of the innovation. We are engineering the world’s first autonomous hydrogen-electric powered HGV to demonstrate hub-to-hub logistics to a leading retailer, ASDA, to elevate public perception, showcasing the potential autonomy can deliver thanks to increased safety and fuel savings, and develop new business models.”
Business Secretary Grant Shapps said: “In just a few years’ time, the business of self-driving vehicles could add tens of billions to our economy and create tens of thousands of jobs across the UK. This is a massive opportunity to drive forward our priority to grow the economy, which we are determined to seize.
“The support we are providing today will help our transport and technology pioneers steal a march on the global competition, by turning their bright ideas into market-ready products sooner than anyone else.”
ASDA Senior Fleet Manager Sean Clifton said: “Reducing our fleet emissions is a major part of our plan of moving towards net zero, so we are keen to look at innovative new technology, such as autonomous HGV tractor units, which can make a real difference to our carbon footprint. We will continue to work with like-minded partners on projects such as this to reduce our impact on the environment.”
Autonomous freedom in transport logistics
Further, radars, LIDARs, cameras, and artificial intelligence will be integrated into the vehicle to provide unprecedented operational safety without human intervention.
Through remote tele-operated vehicles, this advanced system addresses the current shortcomings of the haulage industry, such as driver shortages and improving the quality of life of drivers. For greater work-life balance, drivers can stay local and take advantage of less intensive driving shifts.
As a result of optimising vehicle usage during less busy hours, fleet operators can make logistics more efficient and environmentally friendly by avoiding congestion. In addition, on-board advanced automated drive systems can reduce energy and tyre emissions by optimising acceleration and braking at a far greater level than human ability.
Providing never-before-seen freedoms in transport logistics and reducing vehicle total cost of ownership will help create and support new business models. The automated haulage depots and hubs used for autonomous vehicle technology will also offer improved usage of space, safety and efficiency for operators.
According to forecasts, 40% of new UK car sales will have self-driving capabilities by 2035, with a market value of £41.7 billion for connected and automated mobility. As a result, nearly 40,000 skilled jobs could be created in the connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology sector.