Japan to open 100 kilometers of self-driving expressways for the first time
Recently, Japan announced that it will set up automatic driving lanes in some sections of the New Tomei Expressway in 2024. It is envisaged that it will be mainly used for the practical application of “level 4” (nearly fully automatic) automatic driving of trucks at night. Due to the serious shortage of manpower in the logistics industry due to aging, creating an environment that can make full use of labor-saving technologies and positioning the pillars of the digital infrastructure construction plan has become a problem that Japan needs to think about.
As we all know, the international standards for autonomous driving are divided into Level 1 (driving assistance such as automatic braking) to Level 5 (fully automatic). At present, in Japan, the system is in charge of driving, and the system can be switched to manual mode under level 3 as needed. Level 4 autonomous driving that does not require a driver under certain conditions such as limited areas will be lifted based on the amendment to the Road Traffic Law implemented in April (previously limited to short-distance unmanned buses, etc.).
The Shin-Tomei Expressway was selected for the first time. This section will become the core of the infrastructure for actual driving. It is planned to be a section of more than 100 kilometers between the two service areas of Suruga Bay, Numazu and Hamamatsu. It is reported that relevant parties believe that this road section has three lanes, and the part close to the straight line is longer, suitable for the introduction of automatic driving, and then determine whether the lane is dedicated to automatic driving or prioritizes automatic driving.
Real-time grasp of the road surface and vehicle conditions through sensors and cameras set at equal distances, combined with maps and three-dimensional space databases, to achieve safe driving of vehicles. For example, if there is a falling object or an obstacle, sensors, etc. will detect it, so that the own vehicle and the vehicle behind it can slow down and avoid it safely. Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and Central Nippon Expressway Corporation will finalize the sensor installation method and driving rules within this year. In order to maintain stable communication, they will also cooperate with private companies to expand the high-speed communication standard 5G network.
Robots “replace” humans, starting from the highway?
Previously, expressways supporting autonomous driving were in the conception stage in Michigan and other places in the United States. If Japan’s lane of more than 100 kilometers is successfully realized, it is considered to be the first of its kind in the world.
According to previous examples, robots will be the first to replace the most boring and dangerous human jobs, and the truck industry is no exception. In the eyes of autonomous driving engineers, the interstate highways in the United States have almost no difficulty, so this line is very suitable for the development of autonomous driving technology.
As for places other than highways, self-driving trucks may encounter some challenges, such as the distance between the factory and the highway, and the distance between the highway and the final delivery location. The possible solutions currently proposed are in Transfer stations are set up at both ends of the line, and human drivers handle the more complicated sections of the road, and then hand over the goods to self-driving trucks. After getting off the highway, the goods are handed over to the human driver at the other end.
According to a new study from the University of Michigan, such a delivery mechanism could replace about 90% of drivers in the long-distance trucking industry in the United States, equivalent to about 500,000 jobs. Carnegie Mellon University employees also conducted some social research on this, and said: “When we talked to truck drivers, everyone actually said, ‘Yes, this part of the job can be done by autonomous driving’.” However
, However, in order to achieve this goal, there are still some problems to be solved in autonomous driving technology. First of all, the technology needs to improve the ability to deal with different weather conditions, especially severe weather. Second, regulators in many states have yet to embrace self-driving technology. Finally, there are infrastructure considerations, such as the construction of transfer stations.
Still, long-haul companies can easily reduce their reliance on human drivers by 10 percent if they focus only on regions with temperate climates, research shows. Non-governmental technology development is also becoming active, and there are great expectations for long-distance trucks to be the first to realize autonomous driving. Douglas Jacson, chief technology officer of UDTrucks, which has been working with Kobe Steel to promote demonstration tests, said: “We will accelerate the development of large trucks with Level 4 autonomous driving.”
Mid-Size Electric Trucks Do the ‘Last Mile’ in Urban Delivery
In addition to Japan and the United States, Mitsubishi Fuso Trucks, a subsidiary of Daimler Truck Holdings, has also launched a truck that is equivalent to Level 2 autonomous driving, and will strive to launch Level 4, which is in greater demand. After the Mitsubishi Fuso brand was acquired by the Daimler Group, it has a small amount of sales in sporadic Asian markets such as Japan and Southeast Asia. The Fuso Super Great, Shogun and other models are based on Daimler’s global product framework. The power of the electric vehicle eCanter comes from Daimler’s liquid-cooled lithium battery pack on the side of the chassis. The vehicle is equipped with six sets of batteries, with a total power of 82.8 kWh .
Their operating voltage is 360V, which can provide the vehicle with a battery life of at least 100 kilometers. This is also in line with Daimler’s positioning. After all, eCanter only needs to be responsible for the “last mile” in urban distribution, and other mainline transportation is handed over to stronger trucks. As a small light and medium truck model, Daimler intends to promote it to the global market, forming a high-low matching electric truck product line with Freightliner eM2 and Mercedes-Benz eActros, which is also a good choice for automatic driving on highways a marketing strategy.
The popularization of autonomous driving is also a countermeasure to deal with the “2024 problem” of logistics. From April 2024, truck drivers will be limited to 960 hours of overtime per year, and continuous driving time will also be controlled within 4 hours. If manpower cannot be secured, transportation volume will decrease, which will become a stumbling block to the economies of various countries. If drivers can take breaks during driving, it is possible to maintain transportation efficiency while complying with labor laws.