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The startup opens a new path to autonomous freight


Startups seeking to commercialize autonomous freight transport are modifying existing trucks to remove the driver. The newcomer to Solo AVT believes that a blank sheet approach – a cable “battery on wheels” running from hub to hub, with teleoperation on both ends – is the best answer.

Electrification. Autonomous trucks. The best way?

As for the electrification and autonomy of trucking, it is easy to trace a quarter of the speed and random breakthroughs of startups that consider themselves most likely. Outdated names such as Daimler Truck North America, Volvo Group and startups such as Nikola, Hyliion, TuSimple, Aurora Innovation and a dozen more.

Covering them up means not noticing outstanding ones who don’t have a track record. This group can be just as big. One example Solo Advanced Vehicle Technologies, founded by former engineers Waymo, Tesla and BMW. They argue that heritage makers and startups are seeking too low to significantly transform the $ 700 billion trucking industry.

“Yes, they talk about electrification. Yes, they are talking about autonomy, ”Solo CEO Graham Durley told me. “But that’s not the main push of what they’re trying to do. 150 miles [or] The range of 250 miles will never reach. “

Solo attracted some media attention in March, when it announced its SD1 Heavy platform. It is designed so that AV companies can integrate their self-management software and sensor kits.

We passed at that time. Rationale? In an area where billions of dollars have been invested, Solo has raised just $ 7 million. He plans to fund Series A by June 1 and claims that potential investors are lining up.

So when Solo offered us a first look at computer-generated images and videos before next week’s Advanced Clean Transportation Expo, I said, “Okay, let’s talk.”

SD1 Heavy electric platform. (Photo: Solo AVT)

Blank sheet for a startup

Prior to founding Solo last September, Durley worked for eight years as a senior engineer at Waymo, previously in Google’s project for self-driving cars, where he was a mechanical engineer. Durley holds a master’s degree in mechatronics from Stanford and a bachelor’s degree in physics, materials science and engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. autonomous car greenhouse.

He advocates a clean approach to electrifying freight for autonomy. Forget about using modern equipment to create tomorrow’s transportation system. You have to start first to get everything right.

“You won’t get there unless you design a new platform, which is what we do,” Durley told me. “We are what we need now, what we do not see, what is not being built. I don’t even think about it. “

And TuSimple

Even TuSimple, Durley argues, focuses too much on the sheer amount of software that performs hundreds of trillions of calculations per second. It doesn’t matter without the right physical platform that you can integrate into. Being the first to “get out of the driver” in 10 pilot launches, TuSimple may be leading the race to stand-alone commercialization even with postponement until 2025.

And what about TuSimple Navistar’s production partner? Although it claims to be independent of the transmission, the Traton Group subsidiary lacks the bandwidth to create a truly electric car for autonomy. And Traton promises to put almost $ 3 billion for electrification by 2026. Normal Navistar International LT, which works with the autonomous system TuSimple, does not meet the requirements.

“I’ve seen this in Waymo, which is the largest and most well-funded autonomy company. They throw it down the road. They say, “We don’t care now because we need to focus on software.”

Waymo Via combines its fifth-generation software and hardware to Freightliner Cascadia Class 8 trucks from Daimler Truck North America. DTNA has separate work with an independent subsidiary of Torc Robotics.

“If you take the Cascadia and say,‘ I’m going to run 500 miles, ’- good luck,” Durley said. “You won’t be able to do that because too much needs to change. You attach to solutions. And it’s crippling the industry now. “

It looks vaguely familiar

The Solo has a couple of mule cars upgraded Unique electrical solutions run on batteries. The design of the SD1 resembles a remote control with electric power Einride under from Sweden. Volvo cables are self-contained and tele-controlled Faith prototype operates on the same principle.

Standalone car Einride Pod against the backdrop of green hills.
The Einride Pod (Photo: Einride)

SD1 specifications include tires designed to minimize rolling resistance, exterior lighting to communicate with pedestrians and other road users, a unique sound signature, a modular design for easy maintenance – reading time – and multi-speed tandem electronic axles with built-in electronics. The truck is compatible with fast chargers and existing chargers.

“What we’re developing is really a battery on wheels,” Durley said. “The whole platform is based on a battery system.” No cabs. No drivers. Just a cameraman at both ends of the hub. The SD1 works with any trailer and matches the standard berth height

Is a mobile battery the best solution for autonomous trucking?

The sleek aerodynamic lines that conventional truck manufacturers sell as the best resemble bricks in a wind tunnel. Durley said Volvo’s drag coefficient is about 0.8. Solo claims 0.2 or 0.25.

Testing of the alpha model SD1 is scheduled for two years, provided it receives the funding it is counting on. The production of the images sometime before the end of the decade is based on a typical four-year car development schedule.

Solo does not say how much battery mass it takes to travel more than 500 miles on a single charge. He is still working on the design of the frame and “everything else” to determine the size of the battery.

“Physics is physics, right?” Said Durley. “So it will be the biggest battery on the road.”

Computer images of a heavy SD1 Solo connected to an electric charger.
Solo SD Heavy charger (Photo: Solo AVT)

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