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The Volvo VNL Autonomous is Volvo and Aurora's "first-ever production ready" autonomous truck | Image: Volvo

Volvo’s VNL Autonomous is a Production-Ready Self-Driving Truck

Three years in the making, Volvo and Aurora have finally shown off their “first-ever production-ready” autonomous truck, the unimaginative-named Volvo VNL Autonomous. Marking a major milestone in a collaboration that dates back to 2021, the new development combines Volvo’s expertise in heavy-duty vehicles with Aurora Innovation’s cutting-edge autonomous driving tech. For reference, the platform was founded by former Uber, Tesla, and Google executives, which doesn’t hurt your credibility in the innovation game.

The Volvo VNL Autonomous semi-truck is based on Volvo’s new VNL, a Class 8 semi-truck designed for long-haul transportation. The autonomous semi-truck runs on Aurora Driver, “an SAE L4 autonomous driving system” that uses high-resolution cameras, imaging radars, and a LiDAR sensor to detect objects up to 400 meters away, plus a range of other sensors. With all this tech, the truck can operate without a human behind the wheel. Volvo and Aurora say the Volvo VNL Autonomous semi truck is “purpose-designed and purpose-built” for Aurora’s self-driving hardware and software stack.

The Volvo VNL Autonomous is Volvo and Aurora's "first-ever production ready" autonomous truck | Image: Volvo
The Volvo VNL Autonomous is Volvo and Aurora’s “first-ever production ready” autonomous truck | Image: Volvo

For safety, the truck comes equipped with “redundant steering, braking, communication, computation, power management, energy storage and vehicle motion management systems.” The company even claims that the Aurora Driver, their SAE L4 autonomous driving system, has logged billions of virtual miles for training and 1.5 million commercial miles on actual public roads.

“Our platform engineering approach prioritizes safety by incorporating high-assurance redundancy systems designed to mitigate potential emergency situations,” said Shahrukh Kazmi, chief product officer at Volvo Autonomous Solutions. “We built the Volvo VNL Autonomous from the ground up, integrating these redundancy systems to ensure that every safety-critical component is intentionally duplicated, thereby significantly enhancing both safety and reliability.”

The Volvo VNL Autonomous is Volvo and Aurora's "first-ever production ready" autonomous truck | Image: Volvo
The Volvo VNL Autonomous is Volvo and Aurora’s “first-ever production ready” autonomous truck | Image: Volvo

The Volvo VNL Autonomous is significant because it’s specifically designed for autonomous driving, which will be key to mass-producing the self-driving truck. Notably, the VNL will be built at Volvo’s largest global plant in Dublin, Virginia. Big things are coming according to Volvo, saying this is just the first of many self-driving trucks to come, with plans to bring the tech to all their trucks and even other regions.

Volvo Autonomous Solutions president, Nils Jaeger, highlighted the future potential, stating, “This truck is the first of our standardized global autonomous technology platform, which will enable us to introduce additional models in the future, bringing autonomy to all Volvo Group truck brands, and to other geographies and use cases.”

However, despite all the fancy autonomous tech, TechCrunch says a human driver will still be behind the wheel to take over when necessary as the truck starts hauling cargo across North America in the coming months. An Aurora spokesperson revealed that pilot programs with clients who plan to use Volvo’s trucks will be announced later this year.

“The Volvo VNL Autonomous, powered by the Aurora Driver, offers a fully integrated autonomous solution in the Hub-to-Hub segment,” said Sasko Cuklev, Head of On-Road Solutions at Volvo Autonomous Solutions. “Our approach reduces complexity for our customers while allowing them to experience the benefits of an autonomous solution with peace of mind by ensuring efficiency, safety and reliability.”

Vnl autonomous truck
Image: Volvo

Aurora is gearing up to roll out 20 fully autonomous trucks this year, with plans to ramp up to around 100 trucks by 2025 and eventually sell them to other companies. The company is also teaming up with German auto supplier Continental to get driverless trucks out at scale by 2027. At the Las Vegas event, Volvo mentioned that it has already started making a test fleet of the VNL Autonomous truck at its assembly plant in Virginia’s New River Valley.

Despite the initial optimism that autonomous vehicles and robotaxis would soon become a reality, progress has not been as smooth as anticipated. These technologies have encountered similar obstacles such as regulatory hurdles, public skepticism, and technological challenges that have slowed down their widespread adoption. Moreover, concerns over safety and liability have prompted rigorous testing and validation processes, further delaying their integration. As a result, the road to fully autonomous vehicles and widely available robotaxis has proven to be more challenging and time-consuming than originally expected.

While Aurora has not had any reported accidents, it will still need to make significant strides in proving its technology can consistently handle the complexities of the real world in the environments it currently operates within regulatory guidelines.