Volvo Trucks NA President Says Automaton Won’t Replace Drivers

October 23, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Volvo Trucks is constantly making safety and technological improvements to its trucks to make them easier to drive and prevent crashes. caught up with Peter Voorhoeve, the company’s North American president, at the big Expo Transporte industry conference in Puebla, Mexico, earlier this month and talked about the technology that is in Volvo’s plans. Here’s an edited version of that conversation.

What will be the most significant technological changes in trucks over the next five years? 

I’ve got to start with an obvious one and that is our own Volvo Dynamic Steering system. It is more than just a technological gadget. VDS significantly enhances the safety and control over the truck and it is a very important component for autonomous driving. It is a big step forward and has the potential to change the industry in the same way our I-Shift automated manual transmission did.

(The Volvo Dynamic Steering feature is an electric assist that uses sensors to read the road and boost steering to reduce the strength needed to control a heavy-duty truck at low speed. It adjusts steering to improve stability at road speeds when encountering crosswinds, highway crowning, soft shoulders or emergencies like tire failure. The system receives input 2,000 times per second from sensors throughout the truck monitor yaw rate, steering angle, wheel speed and the driver’s actions.)

Then the second one, of course, is electromobility and battery technology. We are investing heavily in that. The whole industry is investing heavily in that. Electric trucks will change the industry as we know it. And it will be in the next five years.

I think safety in general and safety technology will continue to evolve. That is because there are continuously more trips and cars on the roads. Every year it becomes more important.

We’re in Puebla, Mexico. It and nearby Mexico City make up large metropolitan areas. There’s a lot of predictions about even more growth in megacities over the next decade. Will that put a priority on electromobility and safety? 

Absolutely. It is very clear that in highly congested areas, electromobility is going to be a big thing. Why is it so important in these in these urban areas? It increases the quality of life. There are no emissions. There is no noise. It means that all of a sudden you can drive in the middle of the night because nobody wakes up. And by spreading your logistic flow better, you will get better asset and infrastructure utilization. You will be able to reduce some of the congestion. Having electric trucks drive at night saves you a lot of traffic jams in the morning. It makes sense for a Mexico city, but also even New York and the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The industry and Volvo talk about getting to zero traffic fatalities and zero crashes. Is it possible? 

Our vision at Volvo Trucks is zero fatalities in Volvo trucks. For that, we need safe drivers and we need safe trucks. I believe we build safe trucks. With things like Volvo Dynamic Steering and the Volvo Active Driver Assist suite, we are getting there. Technology needs to be applied as much as possible. We started with the goal of zero accidents with Volvo trucks a few years ago. I see that happening. We have an accident desk within Volvo and we keep track. It is a good trend.

Will we need drivers in the future?

Although we have autonomous trucks that can drive today, I believe that the human factor always will play a role. If you look at transport in general, one thing is driving the load from A to B. But then you need to unload and then load the truck. You need communication. I think that we will not say goodbye to the driver anytime soon. I think, however, that the role of the driver will change. More tasks will be taken over by the truck – think of cruise control and lane-keeping. Repetitive tasks will be taken over by the computer, or you can call it artificial intelligence. But there’s always a human factor there one way or the other.

What about connectivity with the trucks so that you can look in and see what’s wrong before something happens? 

Connectivity is already happening to a very large extent. We have 200,000 connected vehicles. We are doing remote diagnosis, and we are doing over the air programming. I think that that change has already happened. What will change now is that we will see more of it. It will drive uptime in a big way because all of a sudden, unplanned stops for the trucks are not necessary anymore.

Jerry Hirsch September 13, 2019
Volvo Trucks unveiled its VNR Electric heavy-duty truck at the New River Valley, Va., factory where it will produce the vehicle.

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