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Now comes the "ghost" truck

The transporter looks like something out of a science fiction movie.

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Now comes the "ghost" truck

The transporter looks like something out of a science fiction movie. Where the driver sits on normal trucks, the van from the Swedish start-up Einride only has a black front and a few cameras. The vehicle is a kind of rolling container with a futuristic design. It does not need a driver, but moves autonomously to its destination.

However, this ghost truck is not a vision of the future. From this autumn it will be driving on public roads in Sweden, says Robert Ziegler, head of the company for Europe: “We will be making trips there for our customers between their plants and distribution centers. We also have the necessary permits for these routes.”

The routes in public space are still only up to five kilometers long, but Ziegler and his colleagues gradually want to offer their customers more and longer routes. Possibly also for the household appliance manufacturer Electrolux, for whose fleet Einride operates electric trucks with human drivers in Germany.

There has long been speculation about the future of autonomous driving, but now the technology is actually here. At least she makes the first few meters on the street. Vans like Einride's can be seen at the IAA Transportation commercial vehicle trade fair in Hanover this week. However, it will be a few years before such driverless cars can be on the road anywhere in the country.

The world's largest automotive supplier, Bosch, intends to offer systems by the end of the decade that will enable trucks to drive autonomously on the freeway. Nowhere else does the technology make more economic sense than in commercial vehicles, said Markus Heyn, head of Bosch's mobility division, at the trade fair. For hauliers, driver salaries are one of the biggest cost factors, along with the purchase of the vehicle, so transport can become cheaper as a result.

The ghost truck is also seen in the industry as the answer to the serious shortage of drivers. According to Bosch, there is already a shortage of 400,000 truck drivers in Europe. However, the prospect that the profession will soon be partially automated does not exactly make it any more attractive for newcomers.

At least as safety drivers who can intervene by remote control in an emergency, people will probably be needed permanently. And the transition to the new, autonomous world is likely to take decades. As an intermediate step, driver assistance systems such as lane departure warning or distance assistants, which are already installed in many cars, are considered.

Daimler Truck, the world's largest manufacturer of heavy trucks, is now bringing such aids into its vehicles, especially into the new electric series that are scheduled to go into series production in the coming years.

Last but not least, commercial vehicle manufacturers are driven by legal regulations. Starting in 2024, the turning assistant for trucks, which can save the lives of cyclists and pedestrians, will be mandatory in the EU. For this assistant, the trucks need, among other things, external cameras and powerful computers on board, similar to those for autonomous driving. This is the "evolutionary" path towards the robotic truck.

Einride is pursuing the other development path: instead of gradually making the vehicle more independent, it should drive autonomously. The big corporations are also working on this technological leap, for example Daimler Truck together with a start-up called Torc and the Google subsidiary Waymo.

“We are developing autonomous driving in the USA because the regulatory conditions are simpler there. We will bring the technology to Europe when Europe is ready for it,” says Karin Rådström, Head of Mercedes-Benz Trucks. “It will definitely be another ten years before autonomous trucks without a driver are offered in Europe,” says the manager.

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles doesn't want to wait that long. The company is currently working with the US start-up Argo AI to turn the electric Bulli successor ID.Buzz into a robot taxi. The service in Hamburg should start in 2025, confirms Carsten Intra, the boss of the VW subsidiary in an interview with WELT.

Test vehicles are currently on the road in Munich and Hamburg to record all routes digitally and to practice driving in both cities. “We are currently trying to test the system in different situations. We are constantly making progress. For example, we can drive in the rain, and the safety drivers only rarely have to intervene,” says Intra. "Now we have to prove a lot of test kilometers so that we can get approval."

As soon as the electric robotaxi works, VW also wants to use it in other cities in Europe. A new EU-wide regulation for autonomous driving has just come into force, so the legal basis is already in place.

"Everything on shares" is the daily stock exchange shot from the WELT business editorial team. Every morning from 7 a.m. with our financial journalists. For stock market experts and beginners. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Amazon Music and Deezer. Or directly via RSS feed.

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