It might not be as flashy as a supercharged Tesla racing up the motorway with no hands on the wheel, but Volvo Trucks' new contract to haul limestone at a mine in Norway could be more impactful.
Rather than purchasing the trucks outright, Brønnøy Kalk AS has taken a transport solution, meaning that Volvo will be paid for each metric tonne of limestone it moves between the open pit mine to a port five kilometres away. Here, a crusher will chew the material up before it is loaded onto a ship.
Six autonomous trucks will run the route, which travels through two tunnels - one more than three kilometres long - and round a sharp corner. The first trials have already begun and will continue throughout next year, with full operation expected by the end of 2019.
"By working in a confined area on a predetermined route, we can find out how to get the best out of the solution and tailor it according to specific customer needs," said Sasko Cuklev, director of autonomous solutions at Volvo Trucks. "This is all about collaborating to develop new solutions, providing greater flexibility and efficiency as well as increased productivity."
Raymond Langfjord, managing director of the mine, called the move "an important step" for Brønnøy Kalk.
"The competition in the industry is tough. We are continuously looking to increase our efficiency and productivity long-term, and we have a clear vision of taking advantage of new opportunities in technology and digital solutions. We were searching for a reliable and innovative partner that shares our focus on sustainability and safety. Going autonomous will greatly increase our competitiveness in a tough global market."
Future industrial autonomous vehicle contracts could take a similar route, with companies taking on a service rather than purchasing or leasing individual cars and trucks.
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