Within weeks, driverless electric freight trucks may be traveling on public roads in the U.S. for the first time.
Swedish freight technology company Einride was granted a permit by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a pilot project last month. Einride’s pilot program will run for two weeks in the third quarter of 2022 and take place on public roads.
The Einride autonomous electric truck operates without a driver and does not even have space for any passenger. It is monitored by a specially-trained remote driver who can take control if necessary.
Einride’s pilot in being run in coordinated with GE Appliances, an Einride partner and customer. Autonomous trucks will mix with normal traffic on public roads located near the GE Appliance plant near Memphis, Tennessee. As part of the pilot, the autonomous trucks will test moving goods, as well as loading/unloading goods with warehouse teams at nearly locations.
These vehicles have room for about 10 pallets, or about 57,000 pounds.
With no onboard driver, the Einride trucks are managed by remote operators. Each operator may monitor several trucks at a time, and can intervene if there’s an issue such as equipment failure, getting stuck at a gate, etc.
Robert Falck, chief executive of the Stockholm-based company, said: “This is a step-by-step approach, and this is a major step forward, in that it’s actually now on public roads.”
Einride already signed an agreement to deliver 300 electric trucks to shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S.
Electric vehicle companies, including those specializing in autonomous trucking, face the challenge of little charging infrastructure. This makes longer-haul journeys challenging. This won’t affect the pilot in a major way, but could prove an obstacle to a larger-scale pilot project and eventual commercial use.