In what has been described as a groundbreaking accomplishment, the Chinese firm Suning Logistics recently completed driving tests for a cutting-edge, autonomous truck known as the Strolling Dragon. The Strolling Dragon represents a huge achievement for Suning, as it is the first self-driving HGV developed in China to pass highway scenario and logistics campus tests.
Althoughit’s able to operate without driver input, the company see this heavy-duty self-driver as an assistant rather than a replacement for drivers - making complex, long-distance routes far easier to undertake.
What Can the Dragon Do?
The vehicle is the largest autonomous truck in the company’s automated fleet. It has Level 4 self-driving capabilities, meaning that within pre-programmed parameters it can function without human input. The highest level of automation is Level 5, which covers vehicles that can operate without human input under any conditions.
The truck was tested in Shanghai at the end of May 2018. Key to its success in tests was the ‘superhuman vision’, which allows it to identify obstacles at high speeds and distances of over 300 metres. The truck has deep-learning technologies, along with radar and artificial intelligence capabilities. It can quickly avoid obstacles (with a response rate of 25 milliseconds)and make emergency stops. The heavy-duty truck can safely self-drive at speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour and can also accurately park itself.
Dragon Powered Delivery Work
The motivation behind Suning’s research into self-driving technology is to provide their hundreds of thousands of drivers with a safer professional environment to undertake their delivery work.
Although some of the problems the company is facing(for example, China’s ageing population)are country-specific, this technology could certainly benefit the logistics industry worldwide. In fact, the truck is the result of collaboration between US and China-based tech firms. Suning envisions the technology will assistdelivery work driversand reduce the risk of accidents on long-haul jobs. It will also create a more comfortable working environment and the cutting-edge AI technology could reduce logistics costs for companies willing to invest.
Vision for Autonomous Retail
The Dragon is just part of the wider plan Suning has for completely automating the retail process. When up and running, the self-driving trucks will take their place alongside automated warehouse vehicles and robots,to ensure consumers a seamless delivery process. The company has even showcased anentirely unmanned retail concept store and their ultimate aim is to develop a China-wide retail infrastructure using their high-tech solutions.
At present, automated vehicles are not permitted on public roads in China, but Suning are convinced that the government will soon adapt current rules to allow for their innovative designs to hit the highways.
In theory it should be easier for these trucks to reach commercialisation than self-driving cars, as they usually drive in simpler environments (such as highways). So it may not actually be too long before the distinctive Strolling Dragons become a familiar sight on the roads.
Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting logistics professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange provides services for matching delivery work with available drivers. Over 5,300 member companies are networked together through the Exchange to fill empty capacity, get new clients and form long-lasting business relationships.