Arrival Delivery Van Shows Off Autonomous Skills08/05/2021
Electric vehicle start-up Arrival made news in the US with a 10,000 van order from UPS and its microfactory approach to manufacturing. And weeks after announcing plans for a passenger EV aimed at ride-hailing, Arrival has demonstrated yet another technological direction it’s working on: higher levels of autonomous driving. This week the company has completed a successful demonstration of Level 4 operation at a parcel depot, with an Arrival van completing maneuvers around an industrial site without a driver behind the wheel. All the actions that it performed in the demo were ones that are performed by a commercial fleet driver on a daily basis, the company noted.
Arrival’s autonomous driving system, currently under development, is dubbed Robopilot, and has been largely developed in-house, making the company a bit of a rarity among EV developers. The system relies primarily on vision sensors, shunning some more expensive sensor tech that it says is unnecessary for operating on public roads.
The start-up currently plans to undertake testing on open public roads in the UK, following the validation and testing of its autonomous tech in a closed environment. But further down the road, the higher-level autonomous systems could be used on the Arrival Car and the Arrival Bus, the latter of which is much further along in development, and five of which have been recently ordered by the city of Anaheim, California.
Of course, the question of fielding Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous vehicles in the States on a commercial basis is still a bit further on the horizon, as Arrival first has to get its microfactories up and running, and various states have to approve the use of higher SAE-level vehicles on their roads—a process still expected to occur state by state. And as production-ready as the depot maneuvers demonstrated this week may have seemed, the user case for such technology is further still on the horizon, as taking advantage of Level 4 autonomy within a geofenced industrial area still requires systems and procedures that have yet to be rolled out before commercial adoption by businesses. So while a completely autonomous van within a geofenced area could seem ready to be implemented today, industries have to actually begin adopting such vehicles and their operating systems before companies can begin selling them.
As Arrival has demonstrated, the obvious real-world use case for such a vehicle could be a large warehouse complex that uses small vehicles to move parcels or pallets between warehouses, or even inside them. And as with other driverless vehicles currently in development, as well as delivery robots, the business proposition at the end of the day would be replacing several drivers with a controller who can manage a whole fleet of vehicles remotely, giving them tasks to perform autonomously.
“At Arrival, we are building supplementary technologies that will help drivers. Depot maneuvers are the most accident-prone parts of a worker’s shift, and with our technology, we hope to introduce greater safety by removing human driving errors happening in confined environments,” said Max Kumskoy, head of advanced driver assistance and automated driving systems at Arrival. “We are starting with a fixed controlled environment in the depot, where we are truly able to test and validate our technology. We can then understand how it will operate on public roads, in our vehicles, and how it can be implemented worldwide.”
Level 4 autonomy, or operation within a geofenced area with no input from a person aboard a vehicle, is rapidly becoming less a question of technology and more a question of a business model. Specifically, the question is who will pay for the autonomous driving tech.
When it comes to ride-hailing services, companies that run them are hoping that riders will pay—and pay enough to cover their cost and also generate a profit. In the realm of commercial vehicles, developers of autonomous tech are currently trying to find ways to make logistics companies pay for autonomous operation within industrial areas as well as on public roads, though the latter is perhaps a more challenging endeavor if the goal is to go without hiring some humans, as people still have to monitor and service a fleet of delivery vehicles, filling them up and recharging them.
When it comes to privately owned cars, developers and automakers hope to charge their owners for using the tech, more likely on a monthly subscription or a per-mile basis. But the cost of the hardware and software first has to descend a bit further down for such business models to become plausible and to generate enough demand to be viable. It’s safe to say that the cost of such systems isn’t quite there yet to make this happen, even though many developers are approaching a point where it might be.
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