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Self-propelled truck on public road

Hi Linda Borgenstam, Project Manager at DB Schenker Consulting. Tell us more about DB Schenker and Einride's self-propelled T-pod!

Is the truck driverless?
— Yes, the T-pod is built to be self-driving, it doesn’t even have a cab.

How does the T-pod know when to turn?
— It runs back and forth between DB Schenker Logistics warehouse and our terminal in Jönköping. The T-Pod is programmed to run that particular loop and has a type of radar that senses where it is and detects surrounding traffic. To be on the safe side, an operator has control of the vehicle via a TV screen if something should go wrong.

What does the operator, controlling the T-pod, see?
— The car is equipped with cameras and sensors that have full control at all angles around the car. The operator sees the same things a driver sees. In other words, forward through the windshield - and backwards through a rear-view mirror. But the operator can also choose any other angle.

But if it requires one operator per truck, why not just let a driver drive it?
— In the pilot project in Jönköping we’re testing one car and one operator. But in the long run, the idea is that one operator should be able to control up to ten cars.

Is it really safe to let one person control ten cars?
— This technology will mainly be used in traffic over slightly longer distances. Then, the operator can monitor the T-pod from, for example, leaving a terminal until it enters a file on a motorway, where there is no need for an equally active monitoring. When the car leaves the motorway, the monitoring is tightened again.

What’s in it for DB Schenker?
— We see driverless, electric vehicles as a must in the future mainly for two reasons. Electric vehicles is essential from a sustainability point of view. And when it comes to driver lessness, it increases traffic safety by eliminating the human factor that causes most traffic accidents. We are sure that the new technology will make our roads a lot safer. Just look at the air traffic, today it is almost completely automated. The pilots are basically there to monitor that something unexpectedly doesn’t happen - otherwise the aircraft manages everything from start to landing. And the less the pilot needs to do the safer the flight.
— We also see opportunities when it comes to delivering night time, which is difficult today because diesel vehicles make too much noise to be able to deliver in urban areas. Neither do we need to consider driving and rest periods.

How is this "the world's first", attempts are being made with self-driving cars in, for example, the United States? 
— It is the world's first heavy-duty vehicle that drives on a public road without a human being on board.

How do we know that the T-pod won’t cause an accident?
— Traffic safety is a cornerstone for us and nothing we take lightly. Traffic is our work environment and we would never do anything that puts us, or our fellow road users, at risk.

If suddenly an obstacle appears in front of the car, let’s say a cyclist, cat or another car, what happens then?
— Then the T-Pod cross brakes. It has an extremely fast response and is a much safer alternative than a human being. It doesn’t have the thoughts, or the gaze, anywhere other than around the vehicle. And if the T-pod stops in a place where it’s not supposed to stop according to the route, it remains stationary until it is restarted by the operator.

Will the driver's profession be outperformed?
— Absolutely not, but the profession will of course change. We don’t know for sure what it will look like for our drivers, but it is difficult to see that a driverless car will replace today's distribution cars in the inner city of Stockholm for example. Partly because of the traffic, and partly because someone must deliver the goods.