Meet Volvo's 'radically different' electric self-driving tractor system, Vera

Sept. 13, 2018
Volvo Trucks has unveiled Vera, an all-electric, self-driving tractor system being developed as a complement to existing truck offerings.

Volvo Trucks has unveiled an all-electric, fully autonomous tractor of sorts designed for specific applications to help address freight and driver challenges. There's no cab at all, like you sliced that off and left nothing but the motor and fifth wheel, and the system—"Vera"—looks more like a sports car than a traditional truck.

It's "nothing similar to what you've seen from us before," said Mikael Karlsson, vice president of autonomous solutions at Volvo Trucks. "In fact, it's impossible to drive."

"Traditionally, we have taken a step-by-step approach to product development, but as someone once said to me, 'you cannot build a ladder to the moon,'" he noted. "You need to do something radically different."

Radically different it certainly looks to be. The Vera autonomous tractor system is still in development and is intended to supplement Volvo's current truck offerings to help, the company says, as a transport complement in situations like bringing goods between logistics hubs.

"To begin with, we will operate over short distances in repetitive flows," Karlsson explained. "As we gain more experience, we can look into expanding into other applications.

"Vera is not intended to be a solution for everyone, everywhere—it is a solution that we will adapt and tailor from user to user, depending on their unique needs."

How else might Vera be put to use? Again, it's all-electric and operates with very low noise levels and entirely computerized movement, rather than other autonomous trucks to emerge that retain traditional human inputs and controls. Volvo says the system could work for other applications with regular, repetitive tasks "characterized by relatively short distances, large volumes of goods, and high delivery precision" such as in ports and factory sites.

Check out the video below and click through the slideshow for more on Volvo's Vera autonomous transport system. 

Think of Vera not only as a replacement for traditional truck operations but a potential productivity booster in the right environment. "Today's operations are often designed according to standard daytime work hours," Karlsson pointed out. 

"But a solution like Vera opens up the possibility of continuous round-the-clock operation and a more optimal flow," he said. "This in turn can minimize stockpiles and increase overall productivity."

About the Author

Aaron Marsh

Before computerization had fully taken hold and automotive work took someone who speaks engine, Aaron grew up in Upstate New York taking cars apart and fixing and rewiring them, keeping more than a few great jalopies (classics) on the road that probably didn't deserve to be. He spent a decade inside the Beltway covering Congress and the intricacies of the health care system before a stint in local New England news, picking up awards for both pen and camera.

He wrote about you-name-it, from transportation and law and the courts to events of all kinds and telecommunications, and landed in trucking when he joined FleetOwner in July 2015. Long an editorial leader, he was a keeper of knowledge at FleetOwner ready to dive in on the technical and the topical inside and all-around trucking—and still turned a wrench or two. Or three. 

Aaron previously wrote for FleetOwner. 

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