The Swedish technology and logistics company envisions an AI-enhanced all-electric digital cargo transportation ecosystem which can save their customers time and money while curtailing harmful emissions.
While the skies in New York City remain darkened by Canadian wildfires, we are reminded of the delicate balance we humans have with our environment. Climate change is among the most important challenges facing our generation. The march toward carbon neutrality and away from fossil fuels is inevitable, but it needs to happen quickly. The global cargo transportation industry presents a significant opportunity for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat global warming. The road freight industry in particular accounts for approximately 7 percent of global CO2 emissions, consuming over 5 million barrels of oil per year.
A Swedish company called Einride believes that the key to eliminating these harmful emissions and improving the overall quality and efficiency of the shipping industry lies in three areas: digitalization, autonomy and electrification. The company is developing a suite of cargo and transportation solutions which feature Autonomous Electric Transport (AET) and an intelligent freight mobility platform to optimize transportation and logistics. As the company was preparing for its global user conference, “Einride Mesh 2023,” which was held in New York City yesterday, I had a chance to speak with several company executives about the opportunities and challenges faced in this transition to a cleaner, smarter, more efficient transportation network.
Eliminate The Waste
According to Einride, today’s freight transportation industry is rife with inefficiency and waste. The average freight run operates with diesel trucks loaded at less than 20% capacity. Trucks frequently only include cargo in one direction, returning empty to their starting point only to repeat this cycle over and over. This leads to high transportation costs (yet low margins for transportation providers), inefficient use of “human capital” and excessive air pollution. By tracking shipping routes, payloads and schedules across multiple locations over time, the company is able to apply machine learning to develop more efficient shipping routes and schedules. And by switching over from diesel to electric trucks, locally emitted air pollution is eliminated.
Einride evaluates a potential customer’s current costs for transportation and offers them a more environmentally friendly, more efficient and more cost-effective alternative. Einride provides a comprehensive turn-key “cargo as a service” (or “capacity as a service”) solution customized to each customer’s specific needs. Current customers include Lidl, Oatly, Maersk and GE Appliances. Einride provides the electric trucks, operators, charging infrastructure and software ecosystem which ties it all together.
Optimize Through AI & Machine Learning
Einride’s software platform called “Saga” provides daily freight planning through a dedicated app for shippers. The Saga shipper portal tracks load, location, and emissions in real-time, provides environmental impact auditing, intelligent planning and routing, and more. It uses machine learning to enhance operations and optimize loads and routes for maximum efficiency. The platform also includes an app for drivers with route updates, emissions and efficiency data, and relevant vehicle information such as charge level, range, and battery status.
By replacing diesel trucks with electric ones, associated CO2 emissions can be reduced by up to 90% at the source. Electric trucks also eliminate NOx and other air pollutants that are harmful to public health, especially in densely populated urban areas. As a bonus, electric vehicles incur much lower fuel and maintenance costs, leading to enhanced profitability and more rapid return on investment. Einride purchases electric trucks from multiple vendors, including Daimler, Scania and BYD, but their autonomous electric transport (AET) platform and trucks are being developed and built in-house.
The company is so confident in its ability to reach full autonomy that these AETs don’t even include space for a driver. This cuts down on unnecessary weight and complexity. The Einride AETs are monitored remotely by a human operator who can take control when necessary to avoid obstacles or pass through security checkpoints or gates. Einride’s autonomous vehicles are already operating on public roads and at customer sites in Sweden with remote oversight and remote drive capability.
The company allowed me to operate a model of one of their electric trucks using a modified version of their operator console. Using cameras mounted on the model truck, I was easily able to navigate through the streets of a miniature city, with hardly any damage to the model buildings. I also chatted with Tiffany Heathcott, one of the company’s AET operators (and a former truck driver herself) as she demonstrated a multi-vehicle operation console which is still currently under development. Tiffany is Einride’s first remote operator in the United States and will soon be overseeing UATs for GE Appliances in Kentucky.
One of the major hurdles that needs to be resolved in the path to autonomous vehicles is addressing the varied legislation and government regulations around self-driving vehicles. In the U.S, these regulations are being developed not only at the federal level but also at the individual state and county level. Many states are currently leaning toward the requirement for a safety driver to be present in any autonomous vehicle. But such a requirement would stand in the way of progress and efficiency. In Einride’s model, a single human operator like Tiffany can simultaneously oversee the operation of multiple autonomous vehicles, stepping in to resolve ambiguities and manually intervening when necessary to avoid obstacles or handle unforeseen circumstances. Unlike full autonomy for consumer cars and trucks which may follow an infinite number of routes on public roads, cargo trucks typically follow a limited number of pre-determined routes. This limits many of the uncertainties involved with a self-driving vehicle.
Since full autonomy is a lofty goal, Einride helps their customers navigate the transition from manned to unmanned operation. To this end, Einride has developed a proprietary five-step framework and pathway toward full autonomy. Level 1 and 2 require limited regulatory oversight and represent highly controllable environments such as fenced facilities or nearby deliveries on public roads, while level 5 represents fully autonomous driving through dense and complex urban environments.
The company has inked several high profile deals with global logistics companies, governments and manufacturers since its launch in 2016. Here are a few recent highlights.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen Partnership: Einride will deploy and manage an initial fleet of three Class Eight heavy duty electric trucks as well as the charging infrastructure needed to power the trucks. The fleet will haul loads less than 80,000 pounds using the company’s existing fleet of specialized trailers, and be used for shuttle runs between the port of Savannah, Georgia and Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s nearby processing center in Pooler, Georgia.
UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure Partnership: The UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure will deploy Einride’s complete ecosystem, including electric and autonomous vehicles, charging infrastructure, and Einride Saga, throughout the Falcon Rise grid. This collaboration will encompass 550 km (342 miles) of roads across Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah and will include 2,000 electric vehicles, 200 autonomous electric vehicles and eight charging stations. The Falcon Rise grid will help fast track the region to sustainable shipping.
Construction of the Largest EV Charging Station in North America: In partnership with Maersk, the first Einride Station in the U.S. is set to be constructed in 2023 near the Port of Los Angeles, the country’s busiest cargo port. This station will enable the deployment of Maersk’s fleet of Einride electric Trucks transporting freight from the port to destinations all along the West coast. The charging station is being built with enough capacity to accommodate future Einride deployments in the area as well as non-Einride electric fleets. With 65 super-wide individual charging bays and facilities for drivers, the station will be able to recharge up to 200 electric trucks per day.
GE Appliances Public Road Pilot: In October 2022, Einride completed an autonomous vehicle pilot with GE Appliances, marking the first time a fully autonomous electric heavy duty vehicle without a driver on board ran an operational commercial pilot on a U.S. public road. The pilot took place over the duration of two weeks as the vehicle supported real-time workflows and transported finished goods from GE Appliances’ facilities in Selmer, Tennessee. The company is working with GE Appliances to bring this autonomous freight system into production this year.
“The completion of this pilot is a momentous step in the operations of autonomous heavy duty road freight in the U.S.,” said Robert Falck, CEO and Founder at Einride. “This shows how Einride’s new type of vehicle, one that has reshaped the future of shipping, is here today and unlocking real industry change.”
“Real industry change.” That was certainly among the recurring themes at this year’s Mesh event. The freight mobility conference gathered industry professionals and thought leaders alike from around the world to showcase the latest solutions and trends related to smart, efficient, eco-friendly transportation. Conversations focused around private and public collaboration, green deals, legislation, and how digital, electric and autonomous technology will drive the freight industry forward.
In the words of Linnéa Kornehed Falck, Founder and Deputy CEO of Einride, “We’re thrilled with the success of Mesh this year, sharing Einride’s vision for the transformative future of freight mobility and our commitment to pushing the industry forward. The event shared inspiring keynotes, demos, and more, and we hope this inspires others to move towards sustainable shipping in the years ahead.”
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