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Combining AV and EV technology set to unlock new safety, efficiency benefits

July 9, 2024
As autonomous trucks go electric, new partnerships are spurring the evolution of onboard safety systems.

While zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs)  have encountered resistance from fleets over ROI and autonomous trucks have met hesitancy from drivers and legislators, combining electric and autonomous technology on the same truck can unlock new range and safety efficiencies for users. 

One way is by maximizing the effectiveness of regenerative braking.

"You can drive more efficiently in the sense that an AV can predict the traffic situation much better,” noted Philip Reinckens, SVP of Commercialization & Operations at auonomous middle-mile logistics provider Gatik. “It drives like a very careful person; there's no speeding, there's no inefficiencies like accelerating and knowing that in 300 meters there is going to be a traffic jam.”

Wiley Deck, VP of government affairs and public policy at autonomous developer Plus, agreed, explaining that while human drivers might vary in their ability to capitalize on ZEV efficiencies based on their experience, AVs provide more consistency. 

“That's where your autonomy comes into play, because it knows what that vehicle is doing, it can utilize regenerative braking much more efficiently than a human can and in a much more sustained manner,” Deck said.

This includes acceleration management while going up an incline or while merging onto a highway, all of which can be done in such a way to avoid “over-utilizing the battery and wasting its potential” the VP said.

Leveraging this efficiency is a big reason one reason Plus is beginning to embed its SuperDrive Level 4 self-driving system on Hyundai's Class 8 fuel cell electric truck, the XCIENT. The company is also working with Nikola on its Tre FCEV and BEV trucks. 

The key is all in the timing, and with AVs using LiDAR to measure vehicle distance down to the millimeter, they may have an edge in extending ZEV range that humans can’t quite match.

Read more: Autonomous truck sector shakes out in 2024

“A human might be braking sooner, and therefore be missing out on that regenerative braking process,” Deck noted.

Intertwined improvement from AVs to ADAS

While AVs and ZEVs do have the ability to work better together in a tangible way, more investment into autonomous systems can also benefit safety systems.

“All of these software-defined vehicle features that require connectivity will all come together and enable each other,” Reinckens predicted. “These two technology streams definitely go hand in hand.”

Deck said certain Level 2 capabilities, such as automatic emergency, will benefit from broader range of awareness around the vehicle provided by recent Level 4 advancements.

“Level 2 for our system is training our Level 4 system,” said Deck. “[They are] benefiting each other as we develop both.”

Meanwhile, federal rule-makers seek to improve ADAS  through regulations mandating speed limiters and AEB. According to Deck, who previously served as the deputy administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the department has been working to encourage ADAS usage for years ahead of these potential safety mandates.

“You have three tiers that [FMCSA is] looking at that range from your basic lane-keep, AEB, all the way up to PlusDrive, the higher levels of ADAS which are more active,” Deck explained. “The agency is looking at ways to utilize that to continue to promote the adoption of these technologies now that AEB rulemaking for passenger cars is already done and we’re waiting for the heavy-truck AEB rulemaking.”

As a rough guess, Deck estimated that the wait for a heavy truck AEB mandate isn’t long, and could potentially come out at the end of the year. 

About the Author

Alex Keenan

Alex Keenan is an Associate Editor for Fleet Maintenance magazine. She has written on a variety of topics for the past several years and recently joined the transportation industry, reviewing content covering technician challenges and breaking industry news. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

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