Volvo and Aurora are one step closer to putting autonomous semi trucks on North American roads. The two have revealed a prototype self-driving semi truck meant for “long-haul” trips in North America, not just quick hops as with past vehicles. The variant of Volvo’s VNL looks familiar, but packs a wide array of sensors to detect the surrounding environment and navigate on its own using the virtual Aurora Driver.
The automaker was shy on technical details, but said the big rig expanded on existing VNL safety features like Volvo Dynamic Steering and automated transmission to create a “redundant” system. This truck might not run into much trouble on the highway, in other words. The companies previously said they hoped for Level 4 autonomy, or completely human-free driving in limited situations.
Volvo has already put autonomous trucks into service in countries like Norway and its Swedish homeland. However, they’ve generally been limited to short, narrowly defined routes. In theory, the new prototype could handle the longer distances and varied conditions necessary to shuttle payloads between North American cities.
Volvo didn’t say when it expected the prototype to reach public roads, let alone when you might see a production truck. The company would also need regulations allowing commercial self-driving trucks, not just the testing you see in some states. This is an important step toward Volvo’s driverless trucking goal, but far from the last step.