Swedish autonomous-truck startup Einride AB will test its self-driving freight vehicles on public roads in the U.S. in an operation with GE Appliances after getting approval from federal regulators.
Einride plans to put one of its chunky electric vehicles, which have no cabs for drivers, on a one-mile stretch of road between two warehouses in Tennessee for GE Appliances, a subsidiary of home appliances company Haier. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently greenlighted the company’s test run.
“This is a step-by-step approach, and this is a major step forward, in that it’s actually now on public roads,” said Robert Falck, chief executive of the six-year-old Stockholm-based company.
Einride is joining a growing field of autonomous-truck startups in the race to get their technology on the road and bringing in revenue. Companies including San Diego-based TuSimple Holdings Inc., Pittsburgh-based
Innovation Inc., and Waymo LLC, a division of Google parent
have announced tests of their driverless-truck technology in commercial operations carrying freight.
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Steve Viscelli, a University of Pennsylvania fellow and lecturer and trucking-industry expert who is on an advisory council for Aurora, said the freight sector is moving more rapidly toward autonomous transport than the passenger-car business, in part because the technology can reduce costs and simplify operations for commercial trucking companies.
“Trucks will be first, without a doubt, in the true driverless system, partly for the economics of it,” Mr. Viscelli said. “Right now, we have huge limitations on how long a truck can move because it’s piloted by a human being, who needs to sleep and use the bathroom and take 10-hour mandatory breaks and other things.”
Einride calls its stubby, snub-nosed vehicles Pods. They have room for about 10 pallets of freight, or about 57,000 pounds. There is no onboard driver and they are managed by remote operators, who may monitor several vehicles at a time, according to Einride. Those remote operators take actions drivers would typically make, such as calling someone when a vehicle gets stuck at a gate, Mr. Falck said.
Einride’s pilot program, which will run for two weeks in the third quarter of 2022, will put the Pod on public roads that carry trucks and cars.
As driverless vehicle companies Aurora and Embark are making their stock-market debut this month, WSJ’s George Downs spoke with the CEOs about why they’re focusing on autonomous trucks and whether that could spell a solution for the U.S. truck-driver shortage.
Einride last year signed an agreement to deliver 300 electric trucks to shipping giant
Many of the autonomous trucks other companies are developing aren’t electric. That is partly because the return on investment isn’t there right now for the distance they would drive versus how much time they would have to spend charging, Mr. Viscelli said.
One challenge facing electric vehicle companies in the U.S. is the lack of charging infrastructure. That shouldn’t be a concern on the short stretch Einride will use in Tennessee, but Mr. Falck said his company is prepared to build out the infrastructure it needs to operate its vehicles.
Write to Liz Young at [email protected]
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