The next big thing in autonomous driving might very well be self-driving trucks. Uber continues to test autonomous trucks, and Waymo has expressed interest in them as well. But a Swedish start-up called Einride hopes to take things a bit further: It recently unveiled the T-Pod, an electric truck that can not only drive itself, but makes no provisions at all for an onboard human driver.
The T-Pod is about 23 feet long and weighs 20 tons fully loaded, with a cargo box big enough to accommodate 15 standard pallets, according to Einride. It's basically a box on wheels, with no windows or manual controls. The battery pack is a massive 200-kilowatt-hour unit, providing enough juice for 124 miles of driving per charge, the company estimates.
While the T-Pod won't have any people onboard, it won't be entirely autonomous either. The truck will drive itself on highways, but on city streets or in other complex environments, a human will operate it remotely. (An out-of-control autonomous truck rampaging through an urban area probably wouldn't make for very good press.)
Einride wants to deliver the first completed truck to a customer this fall, according to Engadget. By 2020, it plans to have 200 trucks traveling a set route between the Swedish cities of Gothenburg and Helsingborg, carrying up to 2 million pallets of cargo per year.
Like other transportation startups, Einride faces significant challenges. It needs to develop the capital and expertise to manufacture vehicles on a large scale, something that isn't as easy as many entrepreneurs believe. The T-Pod could also face pushback from regulators; it's hard to see government officials easily accepting a 20-ton autonomous vehicle driving around with no human minder onboard, and with good reason. Self-driving vehicles represent a new and untested technology, but Einride is asking road users to put a lot of faith in it right off the bat.
Self-driving commercial trucks could also face more pushback over potential job losses than self-driving cars. Truckers probably won't take the prospect of being replaced by machines lying down, and the connection between job numbers and votes could lead to resistance from lawmakers as well. Still, with companies large and small developing the technology, it seems likely self-driving trucks will hit the road en masse eventually.