VIDEO: With supercar looks, Volvo Vera electric tractor can hitch and haul loads autonomously

“It’s designed to be safe. It’s quiet and totally predictable—down to the cost savings. Nothing similar to what you’ve seen from us before. In fact, it’s impossible to drive.”

That’s Mikael Karlsson, Volvo Trucks vice president for autonomous solutions, describing Vera, an electric, autonomous vehicle currently in development and recently unveiled by the company.

Though it looks more like an exotic supercar from the future, Vera is more truck than anything else. The vehicle is used as a tractor unit and is compatible with existing load carriers/trailers. The propulsion is entirely electric with zero exhaust emissions and low noise levels. The driveline and battery pack are of the same type that are used in Volvo Trucks’ electric trucks.

The design is nearly all chassis, with no cab. Working as “part of a larger system,” Volvo says Vera is designed for repetitive, short-distance transports with high-volumes of goods. The platform consists of autonomous, connected, electric vehicles and a transport control center that all work together in a logistics network, Volvo says.

The vehicles are equipped with sophisticated autonomous driving systems, Volvo says, and are “designed to locate their current position to within centimeters, monitor in detail and analyze what is happening with other road users, and then respond with high accuracy.”

As you can see in the video below of Vera in action, the vehicle can hitch and haul with no operator interaction needed.

“E-commerce is growing fast and we have a widespread shortage of truck drivers,” the narrator of the video says. “Autonomous, electric and safer vehicles have a great role to play (in the future of transportation).”

“The full potential of the transport industry is yet to be seen. Everything suggests that the global need for transportation will continue to significantly increase in the coming decade,” says Claes Nilsson, president Volvo Trucks. “If we are to meet this demand in a sustainable and efficient way, we must find new solutions. In order to secure a smoothly functioning goods flow system we also need to exploit existing infrastructure better than currently. The transport system we are developing can be an important complement to today’s solutions and can help meet many of the challenges faced by society, transport companies and transport buyers.”

Nilsson says the system can be seen as an extension of the advanced logistics solutions that many industries already apply today.

“Since we use autonomous vehicles with no exhaust emissions and low noise, their operation can take place at any time of day or night,” adds Karlsson. “The solution utilizes existing road infrastructure and load carriers, making it easier to recoup costs and allowing for integration with existing operations.”

A cloud service and a transport control center manages the network of electric and autonomous vehicles, Volvo says. The transport control center continuously monitors the progress of the transport and keeps an accurate watch of each vehicle’s position, the batteries’ charge, load content, service requirements and a number of other parameters.

As with an industrial production process, speed and progress are tailored to avoid unnecessary waiting and to increase delivery precision. In this way it will be possible to minimize waste in the form of buffer stocks, and increase availability. Vehicles that operate on the same route cooperate to create optimal flow.