As the debate over whether autonomous cars should have backup manual controls continues, Swedish manufacturer Scania is looking ahead to a future where technology has won out over prudence. The Scania AXL concept is an autonomous truck that lacks not just a steering wheel, but a cab for a human driver.
The AXL was designed to work in mines and construction sites. That offers the advantage of a much more controlled environment, away from the chaos of public roads. It also means any possible future production vehicle based on the AXL wouldn’t have to wait for governments to change rules requiring road vehicles to have manual controls. Logistics software could control fleets of these trucks, telling them where to go, according to Scania.
The concept truck is powered by a diesel engine, just like most other heavy-duty trucks currently in production. But the engine runs on biofuel to reduce emissions, according to Scania. The company already has some autonomous trucks in operation, albeit with human safety drivers onboard, Claes Erixon, Scania head of Research and Development, said in a statement. But Erixon did not mention any plans to put a cabless truck into production.
“We still don’t have all the answers, but through concept vehicles like Scania AXL we break new ground and continue to learn at great speed,” he said.
In August 2018, Scania and mining company Rio Tinto began testing a prototype autonomous truck in an Australian mine. Scania is also experimenting with autonomous vehicles designed for cities. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to test autonomous electric buses on the streets of Stockholm. Scania then unveiled the NXT concept, an autonomous electric vehicle that could be configured as a bus or a cargo van.
Scania isn’t the only company to propose an autonomous truck without a cab. In fact, it’s not even the only company in Sweden with that idea. Startup Einride plans to put a cabless truck into production, and Volvo recently debuted its own cabless truck concept. Autonomous trucking has attracted interest from multiple companies, including Waymo. Startup TuSimple currently operates trucks on long-haul routes in the United States. Both the U.S. Postal Service and UPS have announced plans to test TuSimple’s trucks.