UD Trucks, Nippon Express and Hokuren Agricultural Cooperative Conduct Japan’s First Autonomous Driving Trial by Heavy-Duty Trucks on Public Roads – Showing promise for agriculture and logistics sectors amid shrinking workforce
August 29, 2019
UD Trucks, Logistics firm Nippon Express and Hokkaido agriculture cooperative Hokuren today demonstrated the use of advanced autonomous driving technology in the handling of farm produce at one of Hokkaido’s leading agriculture processing facilities, an important initiative that can help address a shortage of truck drivers as the country’s work force contracts.
The demonstration took place at the Hokuren Sugar Refining Mill in Nakashari, Hokkaido. In the trial, a Level 4 (L4) autonomous vehicle from UD Trucks simulated the transport of sugar beets through the facility and surroundings in an event attended by an estimated 150 key stakeholders, including senior executives from the partner firms, agriculture industry representatives, government officials and the news media. In a first for heavy-duty trucks in Japan, the trial included autonomous driving on a public road adjacent to the facility, a development made possible through the cooperation of relevant authorities.
"Japan’s growing labor shortage is a serious issue that must be addressed. By combining the expertise of commercial vehicle manufacturers, logistics companies and the agricultural sector, we believe that autonomous driving technology can play an essential role in finding the solutions we need,” UD Trucks President Takamitsu Sakamaki told attendees at the event.
Securing Stable Transport Solutions for Agriculture
The shortage of truck drivers now poses a great risk to the stable supply of not only sugar beets, but also broader agricultural and livestock products produced in Hokkaido, of which 3.5 million tons are shipped outside the prefecture every year. Securing a stable transportation network connecting Hokkaido and other destinations is critical.
“We have high hopes that the introduction of autonomous driving will help secure transportation capacity needs in the near future.” said Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives President Kazuyuki Uchida.
The trial program, which began on August 5 and is set to end on August 30, demonstrated how produce can be moved through the processing center. A specially adapted L4 heavy-duty Quon vehicle from UD Trucks operated on a typical delivery route from the entrance to the produce acceptance area, interim storage and the final unloading area at an average speed of 20 kph. The route included a distance of 200 meters on a public road (National Route 334).
UD Trucks is a leader in the use of L4 automation in Japan, the last step towards Level 5 (L5) fully-automated transportation, allowing the vehicle full autonomy over every aspect of driving in a predefined operational design domain (ODD).
The Quon vehicle also employed Network-based RTK-GPS (Real Time Kinematic Global Positioning System), an advanced version of GPS that allows for a high localization accuracy. By combining Network-RTK with autonomous driving technology, it is possible to achieve higher precision in vehicle operation even in bad weather or on poor road conditions.
These systems were put to the test under conditions that replicate actual operating environments and thereby show the feasibility for real-world autonomous driving technology applications.
In 2018, UD Trucks announced its innovation roadmap "Fujin & Raijin. Vision 2030” that aims to deliver a variety of solutions for Smart Logistics, including fully-electric and autonomous trucks by 2030.
“We are confident that L4 technology for heavy-duty trucks will make logistics smarter when it comes to repetitive work in confined areas including large scale farming, in-plant and port operations. Utilizing data collected from this trial, we will perfect our trucks to meet the most stringent demands for different types of operations, helping support more sustainable food production and the Japanese agricultural industry as a whole. We also aim to apply what we learn here today to larger scale applications,” said UD Trucks Senior Vice President of Technology Douglas Nakano.
Widespread implementation of this technology is also a key area of focus for Nippon Express, which established its own Logistics Engineering Strategy Office in 2017. The company has been active across a broad range of areas, including truck platooning using automated driving technology, unmanned logistics centers that reduce labor costs, and logistics solutions that utilize artificial intelligence (AI), drones and advanced tracking systems.
“We have been working hard, together with our customers, to improve the efficiency of logistics, but the shortage of drivers has become more and more serious. If an automated truck can be used for repetitive tasks, such as transporting cargo along the same route, it will lead to labor-saving and higher efficiency. We also expect this kind of technology can be applied more easily in large-scale confined areas such as factories, container ports and airports. We would like to look deeper into the practical applications of autonomous driving technology in various business areas, based on the outcome of this latest trial,” said Nippon Express Executive Vice President, Chief Operation Officer and Representative Director Hisao Taketsu.
Innovation and Regional Revitalization
The trial has also enjoyed the strong support of the prefectural government in Hokkaido, which is actively assisting companies in creating best practices for the promotion of autonomous driving. In 2016, it established the Hokkaido Automotive Safety Technology Study Group bringing in experts from around the country to encourage research and development in autonomous transportation systems. Hokkaido hosts 28 autonomous driving test centers owned by a wide range of groups including major automobile and parts manufacturers, the largest number of any prefecture in Japan.
“Agriculture is not only central to Hokkaido’s economy, but it also supports the economic well-being of Japan. The application of advanced technologies such as autonomous driving will help solve problems such as driver shortages and create more efficient logistics. We will continue to support the transition to real-world applications through these technologies across different industries, together with the organizations gathered here today,” said Hokkaido Vice Governor Shunsuke Tsuchiya.
The trial was conducted under strict safety measures that met or exceeded the standards required for autonomous vehicles by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. This included the closure of routes used for the trial, including the public road, and a safety driver who was in the truck cabin at all times to ensure the autonomous driving functions properly and take control of the vehicle in the event of an emergency.
The three companies involved in the trial reiterated that their goal was to demonstrate the feasibility of autonomous driving under controlled conditions and apply learnings to real-world applications. Each company will review the results of the trial in the hopes of improving agricultural transportation efficiency, helping solve the challenges facing the logistics industry while revitalizing areas that are predominantly rural and depend on farming.
UD Trucks is a leading Japanese commercial vehicle solutions provider, active in more than 60 countries on all continents. Since its inception in 1935, the company has been an innovation leader with a clear vision to provide the trucks and services the world needs today.
The company is committed to go the extra mile for smart logistics with the most dependable solutions for demanding customers. To best support across applications and geographies, UD Trucks offers a full range of heavy duty trucks - Quon and Quester, medium duty trucks - Condor and Croner, and light duty trucks - Kazet and Kuzer, as well as associated operational and financial services.
UD Trucks is a proud member of the Volvo Group, which in 2018 had net sales of 391 BSEK and 105,000 employees globally. https://www.udtrucks.com/
Nippon Express is Japan’s largest global logistics company, with 705 locations in 302 cities in 46 countries, providing an unmatched solution for the storage, transportation and local distribution of goods worldwide. We also seek to reduce the environmental impact of transportation and CO2 emissions through technology, inter-modal models and joint logistics. The company was founded in 1937 and today has 71,525 employees and consolidated annual sales of 2,138.5 billion yen (as of March 31, 2019). The company is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. https://www.nittsu.co.jp/
Hokuren is a cooperative association of agricultural cooperatives that is funded by 108 units of the Japan Agriculture cooperative throughout Hokkaido. Since its establishment in 1919, it has provided support for farmers and a stable food supply to consumers. It also helps to promote the products of Hokkaido throughout Japan and is also active in research and bringing the use of technology to the agricultural and livestock sectors in Hokkaido. . Handling volume in FY 2018 totaled 1,530.0 billion yen with a transport volume from Hokkaido to other prefectures of 2.6 million tons. The group is headquartered in Sapporo, Hokkaido. https://www.hokuren.or.jp/