In a landmark trial, Japanese commercial vehicle manufacturer, UD Trucks, has successfully demonstrated autonomous driving technology on a heavy-duty Quon at an agriculture processing facility and its nearby surrounds.
The evaluation announced today took place in Nakashari, Hokkaido at Hokuren Sugar Refining Mill where a Level 4 (L4) autonomous vehicle from UD Trucks simulated the transportation of sugar beets in front of an estimated 150 key stakeholders, including senior executives from government, agriculture industries and news media.
In a first for heavy-duty trucks in Japan, the trial included autonomous driving on a public road adjacent to the facility, a development reportedly made possible through the cooperation of relevant authorities.
UD Trucks President Takamitsu Sakamaki said Japan's growing labor shortage was a serious issue that needed addressing.
"By combining the expertise of commercial vehicle manufacturers, logistics companies and the agricultural sector, we believe that autonomous driving technology can play an essential role in finding the solutions we need,” he said.
The truck driver shortage poses a great risk to the stable supply of the broader agricultural and livestock products produced in Hokkaido, of which 3.5 million tons are shipped outside the prefecture every year.
Securing a stable transportation network connecting Hokkaido and other destinations is critical.
“We have high hopes that the introduction of autonomous driving will help secure transportation capacity needs in the near future.” said Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives President Kazuyuki Uchida.
The trial program, which began on August 5 and is set to end on August 30, demonstrated how produce can be moved through the processing centre.
A specially adapted L4 Quon operated on a typical delivery route from the entrance to the produce acceptance area, interim storage and the final unloading area at an average speed of 20 kph.
The route included a distance of 200 meters on a public road (National Route 334).
UD Trucks is a pioneer in the use of L4 automation in Japan, the last step towards Level 5 (L5) fully-automated transportation, allowing the vehicle full autonomy over every aspect of driving in a predefined operational design domain (ODD).
The Quon vehicle also employed Network-based RTK-GPS (Real Time Kinematic Global Positioning System), an advanced version of GPS that allows for a high localisation accuracy.
By combining Network-RTK with autonomous driving technology, it is possible to achieve higher precision in vehicle operation even in bad weather or on poor road conditions.
These systems were put to the test under conditions that replicate actual operating environments and thereby show the feasibility for real-world autonomous driving technology applications.
In 2018, UD Trucks announced its innovation roadmap "Fujin & Raijin. Vision 2030” that aims to deliver a variety of solutions for Smart Logistics, including fully-electric and autonomous trucks by 2030.
“We are confident that L4 technology for heavy-duty trucks will make logistics smarter when it comes to repetitive work in confined areas including large scale farming, in-plant and port operations," said Douglas Nakano UD Trucks Senior Vice President of Technology.
"Utilizing data collected from this trial, we will perfect our trucks to meet the most stringent demands for different types of operations, helping support more sustainable food production and the Japanese agricultural industry as a whole. We also aim to apply what we learn here today to larger scale applications,” said UD Trucks Senior Vice President of Technology Douglas Nakano," he said.