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Freight logistics: advances in automated vehicles

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) made an account of recent advances on automated vehicles in freight logistics.

In general, technological advances for light-duty vehicles have spread to all alternative and low-emission fuels offered by the international market, but when the search intensifies in the heavy vehicle segment, such offer decreases abruptly and the possibilities of Energy replacement is limited to small fleets that have ventured into biofuels, natural gas or LPG and some electricity prototypes that still have the issue of battery autonomy pending.

Regarding the mobility of people and last-mile logistics, the main vehicle brands already have their own lines of electric cars, many of which already circulate on the streets of Latin America and the world.

The most advanced prototypes, which are also autonomous, have been developed by technology companies mainly in the State of California, which must comply with a series of local regulations such as the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) to operate a vehicle on US soil.

Thus, these standards require that vehicles comply with a series of minimum specific characteristics such as steering wheels, rear-view mirrors and transparent windshields when used to transport people, in addition to other design and road safety requirements.

Freight logistics

For example, Zoox, an Amazon company introduced an autonomous electric taxi for the transport of people that also allows the possibility of shared travel on demand.

Its sensor-loaded design is capable of bi-directional steering, independent on all four wheels to allow you to maneuver in compact spaces and change direction without the need to back up.

Inside it has a symmetrical four-seat configuration (face-to-face), similar to what a train traveler might encounter, and is equipped with a 133 kilowatt-hour battery that allows it to run for up to 16 continuous hours on a single charge.

In addition, the vehicle has cameras and radar that give it a 270-degree field of view at all four corners, to constantly track objects next to and behind it, including pedestrians, cyclists and other road users (Tech Cruch , 2020).

This model has already been submitted to federal motor vehicle safety, passing safety and crash test standards, but has not yet received permits from FMVSS to operate the vehicle in the United States of America.

Autonomous vehicle

At the moment, the Nuro R2, a low-speed electric vehicle, designed for delivery service, is the only autonomous vehicle temporarily authorized by the FMVSS to legally travel without a driver in the North American country.

Its authorization was possible because as it is an autonomous vehicle for deliveries, it does not require a steering wheel or cabin for a human to drive it, it only has to comply with protocols and delivery of reports on the operation of the system and adequately notify the communities where will circulate soon.

The vehicle, in terms of design, only has a compartment with hinged doors to access its interior where there are different compartments for parcels and food at home, which can only be removed at the destination address.

Another prominent company in freight logistics is Google. The company is working on this idea through its autonomous car subsidiary Waymo, which would have a version equipped with lockers to make secure deliveries directly to customers.

There is also a wave of tech startups that are focusing on autonomous last-mile delivery, using small robots or drones.

While the main problem with electromobility is low autonomy due to the use of batteries, the price of batteries has fallen more than 70% since 2010, making electric vehicles increasingly affordable and competition from manufacturers Increase the offer especially for the segment of short trips and urban operations, such as buses and garbage trucks, but not yet for long distances due to the weight of the batteries.

Other cases

Globally, Tesla, for example, advertises a total range of up to 800 km for the Semi model, in addition to other models that can be driven in autonomous convoys. Mercedes-Benz with its eActros model, proposes an alternative for loads of less weight and autonomy of up to 500 km that would be close to entering the market.

Nikola TRE is the fruit of a collaboration between IVECO, FPT Industrial and Nikola Corporation, who have developed a battery electric truck that is based on the IVECO S-WAY heavy truck, a 4×2 prototype that promises a range of 400 km and has a 480 kW (644 hp) motor that delivers a maximum torque of 1,800 Nm.

But it is expected that it will also be available in 6×4 or 6×2 traction configurations and powers between 500 and 1,000 CV, with autonomies that will vary between 500 and 1,200 kilometers thanks to its electrical supply from a modular system of batteries with a total capacity. maximum of 720 kWh.

Biofuels

While large automotive and battery factories continue to seek solutions to develop electric vehicles with greater autonomy, other energy sources have proven to be a valuable ally in reducing polluting emissions in the short term for the long-distance transport sector through cheap alternative fuels. , such as natural gas (ideally obtained from renewable sources) and cleaner biofuels that can be used in today’s diesel engines without major problems, as well as the combination of fuels that give rise to hybrid vehicles.

The companies Hyliion and Dana have teamed up to showcase the operation of the hybrid diesel powertrain that seeks to generate a transitional solution between battery electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles to accelerate towards green commercial transport.

In addition to the hybrid system, the company also manufactures the Hyliion Hypertruck ERX, which uses renewable natural gas, to generate enough electricity to power the platform.

Energy

Quantron Energon is another prototype related to the cargo logistics of the Iveco brand that turns an Iveco Strator 4×2 diesel into an electric truck with 700 kilometers of autonomy thanks to its fuel cell and hydrogen tanks.

Its 10.3-liter, 416 hp diesel engine has been replaced by a fuel cell system that has an output power of 130 kW and powers a 340 kW (456 hp) electric motor, allowing it to transport up to 44 tons. . For cases in which the initial price is an obstacle to the purchase, Quantron will offer the Energon as a transport service, including in the contract the use of the truck, the driver, and the supply of hydrogen.

Hyundai has unveiled its class 8 prototype, HDC-6 NEPTUNE, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and aims to produce 500,000 hydrogen vehicles annually by 2030.

This alternative zero emissions system also provides a comfortable cabin prepared to offer the comforts of home when sleeping, eating or resting; possibility of autonomous driving; screens projected on the windshield for full connectivity, navigator instructions, a camera monitoring system with eye-tracking technology.

Prototypes

Mercedes Benz also has a preliminary development with liquid hydrogen, the so-called GenH2, which promises up to 1,000 km of autonomy due to the use of hydrogen in liquid format instead of gaseous because it has a higher energy density, which allows fuel cells to be more small and light, freeing up more space and cargo weight.

Its tests with clients are planned for 2023 and its series production, in the second half of this decade. The GenH2 will equip two stainless steel tanks with a total capacity of 80 kilograms (40 kg each) and is equipped with two electric motors that separately provide 230 kW of continuous power (with peaks of up to 330 kW) and a torque 2,071 Nm maximum; It is based on the Mercedes-Benz Actros, it will have a gross weight of 40 tons and a payload of 25 tons.

Finally, concluded ECLAC, it is important to bear in mind that long-distance freight transport has operational requirements that exceed the current supply of electric vehicles, and therefore, the arrival of hydrogen-powered trucks is eagerly awaited to incorporate it into their fleets to the extent that the purchase price allows.

However, so far all the prototypes on the market are in the latest experimental tests and there are still no models in the commercial phase.

 

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