Scania has introduced a fully autonomous, cab-less concept truck: Scania AXL. The concept truck has the company’s modular system at the heart of the design. Scania’s engineers transformed a conventional truck to a fully autonomous vehicle, with the traditional cab replaced by a front module with intelligent technology.

“We already have self-driving trucks in customer operations. However, so far they have been with room for a safety driver who can intervene if necessary. Scania AXL does not have a cab, and that changes the game significantly,” said Claes Erixon, Head of Research and Development at Scania. “The development in self-driving vehicles has made great strides in the past years. We still don’t have all the answers, but through concept vehicles like Scania AXL we break new ground and continue to learn at great speed.”

Scania AXL’s brain is the intelligent front module, where data from cameras, radar, and LiDAR sensors together generate a common view of the vehicle’s immediate surroundings. The challenge has been to replace the human eye and the ability of the human brain to process decisions based on what the eye sees.

“We need there to be overlap between the sensors, so that one can be a backup to take over from the other if needs be,” said Fredrich Claezon, System Architect for Autonomous Vehicles. “What happens if the camera and radar suggest conflicting information? Which of these sensors should we trust? With LiDAR, we can obtain a better basis for decisions.”

The system is designed for a level that meets the operational needs of mines. “The system isn’t yet street smart but it’s certainly smart enough for being used in mines,” said Development Engineer Magnus Granström, Autonomous Systems Development.

The human eye is not easily replaced, but a relatively good overview of surroundings can be obtained through sensors. “In this case, we see what we need to see,” Granström explained. “Driving in a mine is fairly simple and predictable. If you’re driving in a more dynamic and less predictable environment, more work is needed.”

Granström was one of those developing the software for the front module. “In software terms, the greatest challenge has been to ensure that the concept truck is sufficiently safe to be driven without a steering wheel. In essence, the steering wheel has been the precaution through which a driver can intervene if something goes wrong. When we don’t have that, the system must simply work perfectly,” he said.

Development Engineer Carl Wettergren has been involved throughout the Scania AXL project. “One of the early issues was to what extent the front module could be subjected to motion. The aim was for the cameras and sensors to be built into the module, and we had lengthy discussions how these would connect with the chassis.”

Senior Mechanic Pierre Jacobsson said that during its development, Scania AXL was sometimes hoisted into axle stands to prevent the truck from moving uncontrolled. He’s delighted with the end product, “Two years ago, we saw some rough sketches of what the truck might look like, and it seemed very strange. This was something completely new for us. But the result is far cooler than that. It’s cheeky, really cheeky.”

A key motivation for Scania’s development of the self-driving truck has been to start exploring customer needs.

“When autonomous vehicles have reached full maturity and we approach customers, we need to understand all their needs,” said Falkgrim. “This is our interpretation of what we believe customers may require for future transport needs. And we welcome their response.”

“It was a tremendous feeling to see the project cross the finishing line, when Scania AXL actually drove for the first time. That was a truly amazing experience,” Falkgrim recalled.

“With the Scania AXL concept truck, we are taking a significant step towards the smart transport systems of the future, where self-driving vehicles will play a natural part,” said Scania’s President and CEO, Henrik Henriksson. “We continue to build and pilot concepts to demonstrate what we can do with the technology that is available today.”

The first live demo of Scania AXL will take place at Traton Group’s Innovation Day, October 2, at Scania’s demo center in Södertälje.