Articles - Archive


Hi-tech Trucks!


Hybrid trucks, platooning, autonomous driving: Industrial vehicles are getting ready for the hi-tech revolution

Nicodemo Angì

Automotive enthusiasts – as well as many who ignore the sector – are perfectly aware, by now, of the revolution taking place: Fully electric and hybrid vehicles, smart cities, connected cars and self-driving vehicles. These innovations, though, are not limited to passenger vehicles alone, industrial vehicles have quickly adapted to the changing times and can now boast exclusive technologies such as platooning systems (see Pneurama 4/2016). Truck convoys which require the ability to drive autonomously, and even this last bridge was crossed by the industrial sector. The Freightliner Inspiration Truck has, in fact, obtained the license to circulate in autonomous mode in the state of Nevada.


Autonomous yet still classic

The Daimler Group’s hand is quite evident in all this, after all, we’re talking about the owner of both Freightliner and Detroit engines; particularly noteworthy is the fact that these engines have the Detroit Connect system which, in addition to the Zonar platform for electronic fleet management, can also boast a hi-tech Virtual Technician, for remote diagnosis and early "preparation" for the workshop that will repair it. The Inspiration Truck derives from the New Cascadia, which is equipped with 295 / 75R22,5 tires and Highway Pilot, an advanced driver assistance system also found on Mercedes cars and Daimler trucks such as the Actros. The system includes a 2 beam front radar (which covers a 250 mts long area with an angle of 18 degrees and a further 70 meters area with a130 degrees angle) and a stereo video camera (with a 100 meter range at a 45 degree angle) which controls the already tested Active Brake Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control (standard on Cascadia and New Cascadia) as well as an optional Lane Departure Control. To obtain the necessary approval for use on public roads in Nevada, these technologies had to be further developed and tested in the Marathon Run, during which the Inspiration Truck drove more than 16,000 km on the firm’s test track in Papenburg, Germany. Daimler also launched its own  prototype: the Future Truck 2025 incorporating these technologies and enhancing them with 3D digital maps, autonomous driving capabilities on every road and connectivity with other vehicles as well as road infrastructures.


Hydrogen power

Nikola One, unveiled in Salt Lake City on the 1st of December, shares the same connectivity features but with a completely different approach to traction. The traction is in fact guaranteed by fully electric motors located close to the wheels: the 4 units installed - 2 in front and one in each of the 2 rear axles – can boast 2,000 HP and 2,700 Nm of torque while the sizes of the tires are 295/75 R22,5 in the front and 445/50 R 22.5 on the rear. This layout provides for a 6 x 4 wheel drive with torque vectoring; transmissions (one for each wheel) are automatic with only two speeds, since electric motors are able to easily run at high revs, and the power is 800 V. The battery pack has 320 kWh capacity and is therefore questionable how much time is needed to recharge it, but Nikola Motors (Nikola being Tesla’s first name and therefore an explicit reference to another manufacturer of electric vehicles), has added powerful Hydrogen Fuel Cells to recharge the 32,000 lithium batteries that power the motors; as expected, a break energy recovery system is also present. Thus the system allows for quick hydrogen filling (about 15-20 minutes according to the manufacturer) and in any case the hydrogen + battery declared combined mileage is more than 1,200 miles . Equally unusual is the sales formula: $1,500 on reservation (see Tesla Model 3) and included in the rather non-economical purchasing price - several hundred thousand dollars, though the company states that maintenance costs are half of a diesel truck - includes the supply of hydrogen for 1 million miles, with refueling to be made in its proprietary service stations. Staying with Fuel Cell powered vehicles, we cannot avoid mentioning a bus that uses this source of energy and that, once all tests, which started in 2015, are completed, should be launched on the market next year. We’re looking at a 77-seat bus presented by Toyota through its industrial vehicle brand, Hino, and  equipped with a sturdy pack of fuel cells powered by 600 liters of liquid hydrogen at 700 bar stored in as many as 10 tanks. The 2 motors develop a combined 303 hp at 670 Nm; since both Toyota and Hino produce connected vehicles, offering remote monitoring and diagnostic online systems, it seems quite obvious that this bus will be equipped in the same fashion.


Light and electric

On the other hand, the Catalyst series Proterra coaches are traditionally electric and available in a variety of versions though sharing the same length, the same 220 kW electric motor, the 2 speed automatic transmission and tires, which are, as standard equipment, a set of Michelin 305/70 R22,5. The differences are to be found in the battery capacity: 79 kWh for the FC, 105 for the FC +, 220 and 330 for the XR and XR + respectively, and a remarkable 440 for the E2 version, a real road rider, thanks to the 251 miles declared mileage (403 km); for all other models the declared mileage with a “full tank” are 193, 136, 62 and 49 miles respectively.

The body, 13 meters long and 3.4 high, is made of composite materials to reduce weight (the E2 model, despite the massive batteries, weighs about 15 tons empty and has a fully laden consumption equivalent to about 7.5 km/liter) and is equipped with ABS and air suspensions. The battery pack can be replaced in a few minutes and thanks to a very powerful battery charger, the E2 can be recharged in less than 5 hours. The electric Proterra buses are currently on sale and a few hundred models are already circulating in the U.S.. Furthermore, the Proterra Catalyst feature the MobilEye Collision System, which uses an image recognition system to warn the driver of possible dangers.


Pantographs and sensors

On a radically different wavelength is the experiment that Scania is currently conducting in Sweden, together with the Swedish Government, in a section of the E16. A 4 x 2 series G truck, equipped with  295/80 R22,5 tires, was equipped with a 130kW/1050 Nm electric motor coupled to a 360 hp diesel engine;  the electric unit  is powered by a small 5 kWh lithium-ion battery and ... rail type pantographs! In case of overtaking, the pantograph can be lowered and the truck behaves like a normal hybrid, until it returns back on the lane and restores its electric power supply.
In the end, we’d like to close with a story that speaks volumes about the changes that will soon affect the heavy transport sector: a number of former Google, Tesla and Apple employees have recently founded a startup with the aim of introducing a retrofit autonomous driving system in trucks. The kit provides for a series of sensors to be placed high in the cabin for the best possible viewing and the team's work focuses on the truck’s ability to drive itself off the freeways, since these account for only 5% of the roads in the US.

back to archive