The Hub2Hub consortium has been awarded £6.6m (US$8.1m) to develop and deliver a revolutionary, world-first, autonomous zero-emission HGV for the UK market.
Accelerating toward the next generation of transportation and logistics, the Hub2Hub consortium will create a self-driving heavy goods tractor unit that will begin road trials in 2024, with major UK retailer ASDA overseeing the vehicle development as a strategic partner.
The £12m (US$14.8m) venture has been selected by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) as one of seven recipients of its joint industry and government funding. The Hub2Hub will showcase the potential of autonomy in the transportation sector with unprecedented levels of efficiency, safety and operational cost savings for logistics operators, as well as the provision of new employment opportunities.
The HVS-led consortium includes Fusion Processing and ASDA and will build two prototype vehicles. The first hydrogen-electric HGV prototype will be fitted with a driver’s cab and tested on the road in autonomous operation, using Fusion Processing’s CAVstar automated drive system with a human safety driver at the wheel.
The second prototype will have the driver’s cab removed and replaced by an aerodynamic fairing. During the project, this vehicle will be evaluated on test tracks, with the CAVstar system in this application allowing a remote human driver in a control hub to operate the vehicle.
Together, these two prototypes point to an optimized future logistics system where vehicles could be operated in autonomous mode on hub-to-hub routes, with a remote driver then taking control to drive the vehicle from the hub to its end destination.
Not only will HVS’s innovative HGV decarbonize one of the biggest polluting vehicle sectors on the road, it will also expedite the development of hub-to-hub automated driving technology. As a UK leader in autonomous vehicles, Fusion’s participation in the project will see the development and integration of its advanced CAVstar system where a combination of vision systems, AI and route planning can deliver a fully autonomous vehicle that takes over from a human driver and hands back control at predetermined hubs on a route.
Fleet operators will benefit by optimizing vehicle utilization during less busy hours, thereby making logistics more efficient and more environmentally friendly by avoiding congestion. In addition, onboard advanced automated drive systems can reduce energy and tire emissions by optimizing acceleration and braking far better than humans are able to do.
Improved operational efficiencies will help create and support new business models by providing previously unseen freedom in transportation logistics and reductions in vehicle TCO. The automated haulage depots and hubs used for autonomous vehicle technology will also offer improved use of space, safety and efficiency for operators.
Forecasts predict that by 2035, 40% of new UK car sales will have self-driving capabilities, with a total market value for connected and automated mobility worth £41.7bn (US$51.4bn) to the UK. This could create nearly 40,000 skilled jobs in connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology.
“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,” explained Fusion Processing CEO Jim Hutchinson. “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 added, “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.”
UK 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’s senior fleet manager, Sean Clifton, concluded, “Reducing our fleet emissions is a major part of our plan of moving toward 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.”