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Gauging the Tech that Will Drive the Future of Trucking

September 22, 2017

By David Cullen

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Volvo’s Lars Stenqvist says the technologies set to most potently change trucking are connectivity, electromobility and automation.  Photo: David Cullen
Volvo’s Lars Stenqvist says the technologies set to most potently change trucking are connectivity, electromobility and automation.  Photo: David Cullen

Lars Stenqvist sees the potential for a chicken-or-egg dynamic slowing down how quickly smart trucks and smart highways can be integrated to leverage their potential to boost trucking efficiency. 

Stenqvist, appointed executive Vice President of Volvo Group Trucks Technology and chief technology officer of Volvo Group last year, held a roundtable discussion on technology and trucking with industry editors on Sept. 18 at the Swedish embassy in Washington, DC.  

An industrial engineer by training, Stenqvist's prior experience includes a stint as head of Research & Development and CTO of Volkswagen Truck and Bus. Before that, he held a range of R&D, production, and engineering executive positions with truck maker Scania, which is owned by VW. 

Stenqvist said the three technologies that have the greatest potential to change trucking are data connectivity, electric power and autonomous driving. He pointed out that even though each of these are being developed independently to a large degree, their real power will be realized when the three converge to benefit trucking and overall society by increasing highway safety, reducing congestion, and enhancing the quality of life.

“I don’t know what the future will look like,” Stenqvist said, “but I have a clear view of where it's headed.” He explained that what will really drive trucking forward will be the work that enables both smart trucks and a “smart infrastructure” to work hand-in-glove.

He did allow, however, that there is a danger that research and development work as well as the practical engineering of “smart” solutions could be hampered if transport operators, industry suppliers and government agencies get too hung up worrying about the “chicken vs. the egg"— that is, shpuld they build the smart truck or the smart highway first?

“But we need to come up with these solutions rapidly,” Stenqvist added. “We do see that when we meet with customers. They are waiting for these solutions.  When we meet with legislators, they are waiting for it. I would say that society is waiting for it.”

Turning to connectivity’s perceived value up and down the supply chain, he said to expect that seamless leveraging of data will lead eventually to all cargo being connected in real time, the better to boost efficiency and productivity.

To describe the embrace of hybrid and full-electric drive systems for trucks, Stenqvist invoked the term “electromobility,” which is commonly heard across the pond. But he was quick to stress that the rise of electric power will not doom the internal combustion engine. He figures that proven technology will be “around for years to come,” especially because other technologies are helping enhance IC enginer efficiency— such as truck aerodynamics and automated transmissions.

Stenqvist said the rise of trucks, buses, and other commercial vehicles using electric power will also help reshape urban planning. Because these vehicles produce no tailpipe emissions or generate any noise, he said they will make it possible, for example, to design indoor bus stops.

In terms of trucking, he said that right now “the biggest interest is having the ability to go electric on the last leg or last mile [of delivery]. Most likely, that will be the most popular application.”

While connectivity is everywhere today— think of the Internet of Things everyone’s talking about— and electric vehicles (which actually date back a century) are making broad strides forward, the real game-changer will be the expansion of autonomous driving technology.

Stenqvist echoed the view held by many other experts of late that self-driving trucks will not arrive as a monolithic solution. He explained that “automation” will be developed along various lines of approach and that many of the enabling technologies are already at work, including lane-departure warning systems and automated emergency braking.

He said the upshot is that what we’ll see over time, as autonomous technology advances, is that less and less will be required of a driver to operate a truck more and more safely and efficiently.

Related: Smart Trucks Have Already Arrived

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