Volvo just released a short, highly produced video of its autonomous truck driving itself through an underground mine as a demonstration of its technology in rough conditions. It also features a Volvo executive risking his life by playing chicken with the driverless vehicle.
With a movie trailer-like soundtrack throbbing in the background, the truck is shown driving itself through the twisting corridors of Sweden’s Kristineberg mine, which is over 4,000 feet below the surface. There is no driver behind the steering wheel, even though it appears to be turning itself.
As the music reaches a crescendo, the truck stops mere inches from a man in a mining helmet and yellow slicker, who turns out to be Torbjörn Holmström, Volvo’s chief technology officer. (It’s reminiscent of that scene from 1989’s Batman when the self-driving Batmobile brakes in front of our hero with barely an inch to spare.)
“Thank you for stopping,” Holmström says to the truck, before climbing in the cab. From the passenger seat, Holmström says the autonomous truck is the first in the world that can “drive itself through these difficult conditions.”
But in a statement accompanying the video, Holmström admits the stunt made him nervous. “No matter what type of vehicle we develop, safety is always our primary concern and this also applies to self-driving vehicles,” he said. “I was convinced the truck would stop but naturally I felt a knot in my stomach until the truck applied its brakes!”
The specially equipped Volvo FMX is still just a concept, but the Swedish automaker says it hopes to roll out a whole fleet as part of a project aimed at improving the transport flow and safety in mines.
While most of the attention is being paid to self-driving cars, autonomous trucks are also gaining traction. Uber recently acquired a startup called Otto, which has the goal of turning commercial trucks into self-driving freight haulers. And last April, a fleet of self-driving trucks completed a cross-continent journey that organizers say demonstrates the future of transport in Europe.