China’s first autonomous truck, FAW J7+, passed the national certification test at the China Automotive Technology & Research Center (CATARC). The FAW J7+ has met all key safety and performance metrics to start on-road operation. This is China’s first independent certification of an automated truck, an important milestone for the commercialization of automated heavy-duty trucks in China. It is expected to enter production during the first half of 2021. It used Plus self-driving technology.*
Autonomous trucks or commercial vehicles are poised to become a global battleground among makers since it is a more expansive road to profitable products than autonomous cars. Nonetheless, the technology is daunting and just as expensive, but it can be transferred to anything mobile. An announcement from General Motors on autonomous trucks is expected at anytime now as it is in talks with talks with startup called Nikola Corp. about a partnership to make electric and fuel-cell-powered trucks. GM is well along in its own autonomous vehicle driving technology and electrification and plans to begin testing unmanned autonomous vehicles by the end of this year in San Francisco. (GM Earns $5.3B in Q3 – Trucks, China Help)
China with its own vast market and a Communist central government that can quickly decree and implement policy – think Covid response or Trump’s defeat in the trade war he started – would seem to have an advantage here. It is lucky for western automakers that Chinese industrial policy allowed them to operate there but only with local partners. How the pie is sliced outside of China when and if the exports become voluminous will be subject to much behind the scenes maneuvering and uncomfortable board meetings. (Covid Causalities: US Trade Deficit Continues to Increase)
Daimler Trucks last year established an Autonomous Technology Group as a global organization for automated driving, bringing together its worldwide expertise and activities. The main tasks of the new unit comprise overall strategy and implementation of the automated driving roadmap, including research and development as well as setting up the required operations infrastructure and network, heading towards the series production of highly automated trucks (SAE level 4. See SAE Autonomous Driving Levels).
The new Group is part of Daimler Trucks’ global effort to put highly automated trucks onto the roads within a decade. To achieve this, Daimler Trucks announced an investment of more than EUR 500 million (USD ~$570 million) at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. In commercial trucking, level 4 (the vehicle can perform all driving under certain conditions, the driver has the option to take control) is the logical next step after level 2 to increase safety as well as efficiency and productivity. (Update – BMW, Bosch, Daimler Autonomous Driving Forays Daimler and BMW JV on Automated Driving Technologies)
CATARC is a third-party automotive testing facility and proving grounds in Asia. The facility team has expertise in automotive testing, vehicle forensic authentication, quality system certification and training, and more. The certification test that the FAW J7+ automated truck passed was based on China’s highway and transportation standards and rules, including JT/T 883-2014, GB/T 26773-2011, and GB/T 33577-2017.
“I’m proud of our team for achieving this significant milestone,” said Shawn Kerrigan, COO and co-founder, Plus. “As the result of years of intense technology development and collaboration with leading technology suppliers, Plus now has a best-in-class product that meets the stringent requirements of a commercial self-driving system.”
To facilitate its commercial deployment, Plus has established a group of partners to mass produce factory-built automated trucks. In 2018, Plus entered a strategic partnership with FAW Jiefang and joined its “Colombo Smart Transportation” program. A year later, Plus formed a joint venture with FAW to focus on the development of automated trucks. The jointly developed FAW J7+ intelligent truck will start mass production in the first half year of 2021.
*Plus claims to be a world leader in self-driving truck technology. Headquartered in Cupertino, CA the company was founded in 2016 by a group of entrepreneurs and industry veterans, each with over 20 years of experience in high tech and artificial intelligence. Plus specializes in providing full-stack self-driving technology to enable large scale autonomous commercial transport. Plus is currently working with some un-named clients that it claims are leading truck manufacturers, largest shippers, and top fleet operators to begin mass production of its automated driving system.