Innovate UK project to develop autonomous driving system for Charge electric trucks

Charge Automotive has won Innovate UK backing to help develop autonomous driving functionality for its new range of electric freight vehicles.

Dubbed Robopilot, the project will see Charge leading a consortium (see box, below) to bring autonomous racing technology to the light commercial vehicle market.

Robopilot combines input from sensors around the vehicle – such as radars, cameras, ultrasonics and lidars (light sensors to measure the distance to a target object) – with mapping, artificial intelligence and fleet information, which is then acted on by autonomous software.

The technology has already undergone “rigorous simulation, internal testing as well as public demonstrations”, according to Victoria Tomlinson, head of PR & communications at Charge Automotive.

She added: “The road environment is complex: simulation, verification and validation, and physical testing in controlled environments, in conjunction with our project partners, will take place before road trials begin.”

Robopilot features in the second wave of projects from a £35m joint Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles and Innovate UK competition launched last autumn.

The Oxfordshire-based firm plans to bring a range of affordable, zero-emission freight trucks to the market that will be priced in line with traditional diesel counterparts.

Earlier this month, Charge signed a 15-year lease on a manufacturing facility in Banbury Cross, with the first trucks in the 3.5-tonne to 26-tonne range expected to roll off the production line later this year.

Commenting on the recent competition funding, Tomlinson told Freight in the City: “It is great to be at the forefront of the advancement of driverless technology in the UK and for that to be acknowledged by Innovate UK.”

Charge Automotive is backed by investment firm Kinetik.

Consortium partners

  • Charge Automotive
  • UPS UK
  • Thales UK
  • Loughborough University
  • University of Bristol
  • University of West of England
  • South Gloucesterhire Council
  • Test and Verification Solutions
  • AXA UK


Autonomous Cargopod delivers for Ocado

A trial of a fully autonomous electric-powered vehicle – dubbed the Cargopod – conducting last-mile deliveries for Ocado in Greenwich concludes on Monday (3 July).

The vehicle, which has a payload of 128kg and requires two employees to accompany it at all times, has delivered groceries to more than 100 customers so far. Its use, however, has been limited to the Royal Arsenal development in the London borough, which has no public highways.

It was developed in partnership with Oxford-based artificial intelligence firm Oxbotica, and is part of a trial led by Transport Research laboratory (TRL) and its Gateway project (standing for Greenwich Automated Transport Environment).

David Sharp, head of Ocado’s 10x department (Sharp explained its 10x department aims to make things “ten times better”), said the trial was designed to take autonomous commercial vehicle technology to the “edge of what is practical”.

He also explained that the technology behind the CargoPod – particularly its software platform Selenium – could be scaled up to larger commercial vehicles to improve the payload capacity.

Simon Tong, principal research scientist at TRL and technical lead for the Gateway project, added: “This trial with Ocado Technology provides an ideal platform to help us understand how and where these vehicles could best operate and whether people would accept, trust and like them as an automated delivery service in the city.

“We envisage that cities could benefit massively if deliveries could be made by quiet, zero emission, automated vehicles when congestion is minimal,” he said.

And here is a great video explaining how it works:


Traffic light monitoring app to help HGV drivers reduce emissions

A new smartphone app, Greenwave, that enables HGV drivers to monitor traffic light signals and drive more efficiently as they approach them, is to be trialled in Birmingham.

By being aware of when traffic lights will change, it’s hoped drivers will be able to adapt their speed to ‘ride the greenwave’ and minimise stops and starts at traffic lights.

This should reduce both fuel use and emissions, as vehicles will spend less time idling at red signals.

The 12-month Greenwave pilot, which started in April, forms part of the government’s £20m Low Emission Freight and Logistics trial.

It is being run in a consortium led by Idox Transport, which includes CheckedSafe, Amey and Birmingham City Council.

Birmingham is one of a number of UK cities mandated to introduce a clean air zone by 2020 and the council said it welcomed projects like this that were “creating innovative, practical solutions to improve air quality.”

Civils firm Amey will be using the new app on 12 Masternaut-equipped refuse trucks over a six-month period on its Birmingham Highways utility contract to monitor the impact on MPG and emissions.

The aim is to deliver a 10% reduction in monthly fuel costs and emissions.

Tony Matthews, Amey’s transport manager for Birmingham, said: “Amey is involved in a number of initiatives which support Birmingham City Council’s drive to improve air quality and we are delighted to be piloting this technology.

“All of our vehicles are GPS tracked so we can monitor how driving styles impact fuel consumption, and we are excited to see how this trial will help our drivers adapt even further to limit the environmental impact of these essential journeys,” he added.

How does it work?

The app is fully hands-free and uses audio and visual methods to relay data to the driver.

It uses traffic signal data to transform fleet driver behaviour by encouraging them to drive in a more efficient manner via gamification.

Drivers are awarded a green score each time they drive, based on both their driving style and how they approach traffic signals. Points accumulate over the month with a monthly league board rewarding the driver with the highest score.

CheckedSafe (winner of a Commercial Motor Award for Workshop Innovation of the Year in 2016) will be delivering the app that drivers will use to monitor traffic signal timings, working with Idox Transport which manages the Urban Traffic Monitoring Control (UTMC) system that controls the traffic signal timings, on behalf of Amey and Birmingham City Council.

Anthony Burgess, head of projects at Idox Transport, said: “There is no known solution of this type in existence – which uses data feeds from existing infrastructure to provide drivers with live updates enabling them to change their driving style.”


Two Mercedes-Benz Econic tippers join Cemex London fleet

Cemex has put two Mercedes-Benz Econic tippers on to the road, timed in part to coincide with Bike Week 2017 (10-18 June).

The low-entry cab trucks join a London fleet of 33, and will move aggregates from quarries and wharves to ready-mix concrete plants and customers’ construction sites.

David Hart, UK supply chain director at Cemex, said: “We’re delighted to be expanding the number of low-entry cab vehicles in our fleet.

“This type of vehicle is perfect for the urban environment with its busy roads, hence why our three low trucks [all Econics] are based in Greater London.

“However, in more rural conditions the driving position and height above the road of a standard HGV often enables the driver to see the traffic much further ahead and anticipate any problems.”

Cemex said it would like to add more low-cab models to its fleet, subject to the work undertaken.

Hart added: ““Due to the design of the low-cab truck, it requires the road and access surfaces to be relatively level and in reasonable condition, not always easy on construction sites.

“We therefore, need the whole supply chain and the industry to be committed to enabling this type of vehicle to become the norm in the construction industry.”

Last year Cemex placed an order for 47 low-entry Volvo FMs for use by sub-contractors.

Ford opens smart mobility research hub in London

Ford is opening a Smart Mobility Innovation office in London to enable a 40-strong R&D team to be closer to top academics and technology firms based in the capital.

Located at the Here East innovation hub at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, the new team will work on “cutting edge trials” in London including the plug-in hybrid Transit fleet project launching later this year.

“Basing our rapidly growing team here in the heart of mobility innovation in London is critical to accelerating our learning and development of new technologies,” said Steven Armstrong, group vice president and president of Europe, Middle East and Africa at Ford.

“The location at Here East will allow us greater collaboration and the out-of-the-box thinking needed to tackle the urban transport challenges of tomorrow.”

The Olympic Park’s private road network may also be used for vehicle testing in the future.

Here East is also home to teams from Loughborough University, Advanced Propulsion Centre and UCL Robotics.


Charge Automotive powers ahead with electric truck assembly plant

Charge Automotive has signed a 15-year lease on a site to build its new range of ‘affordable’ electric trucks for the UK marketplace.

The automotive technology firm will base its first assembly plant at a 111,560ft² warehouse at Banbury Cross, Oxfordshire – close to junction 11 of the M40 and with easy access to the Midlands, London and the Home Counties.

Trucks built at the site, which will range from 3.5-tonnes to 26-tonnes, will be ultra lightweight, autonomous ready, and comply with London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone and proposed Direct Vision Standard.

The company said it wants to “remove the barriers to entry” for electric vehicles by pricing the new trucks in line with conventional vehicles.


Kuehne + Nagel trials hydro-electric refrigeration units in urban areas

Kuehne + Nagel (K+N) is operating two Carrier Transicold engineless refrigeration systems on its Whitbread contract to test out their environmental and performance capabilities.

The multi-temperature units are fitted to an 18-tonne Mercedes-Benz Econic and a 26-tonne Daf CF and feature low-noise, Piek-compliant technology suited to urban areas.

They run entirely on hydro-electric power generated by the trucks’ Euro-6 engines – removing the need for a separate diesel engine.

Carrier Transicold said this helps reduce environmental impact by cutting emissions and improving fuel efficiency, whilst also reducing maintenance costs.

Both units have been specified with R452A refrigerant, which has the same cooling capacity, fuel efficiency, reliability and refrigerant charge as R404A, but offers a 45% reduction in Global Warming Potential (the measurement used to show the different environmental impact of gases).

“Within the lifetime of these vehicles, fleets in major cities are going to be facing stricter rules surrounding vehicle emissions,” said Andrew Blake, K+N national distribution manager.

“After consulting with [hire firm] Petit Forestier, we felt it was the perfect time to put Carrier Transicold’s new engineless transport refrigeration technology to the test.”

Both vehicles are in daily operation in a busy urban environment, transporting a mix of ambient, chilled, and frozen produce to the Whitbread-owned Premier Inn chain.

The Daf is based in Wellingborough and delivers into Birmingham and Nottingham, both of which will include a Clean Air Zone by 2020;  the Econic – which allows the driver to sit much lower than in a conventional distribution truck – operates in London, which will enforce the country’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone by 2019.

Whitbread logistics director Brodie McMillan said: “If these units deliver the benefits we’re expecting, Kuehne + Nagel will be looking to introduce the same technology into our delivery fleet, reducing the environmental impact of our vehicles and helping to improve air quality.”


European H2Share project to build and test 27-tonne hydrogen fuel cell rigid truck

A European project to help build a market for zero-emission, long-distance distribution trucks using hydrogen fuel cell technology has been launched.

Led by Belgian hydrogen association WaterstofNet, the H2Share project will see a 27-tonne electric, fuel cell-extended rigid truck built by Dutch vehicle manufacturer VDL.

Alongside this, a low-energy, mobile hydrogen refuelling system will be built by German firm Wystrach.

The zero-emission truck and mobile refuelling technology will be put on trial in six locations across Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

H2Share’s ambition is to deliver proof of readiness of hydrogen technology for heavy duty applications in real-life operations.

Based upon the trials and cooperation with sector-related associations, a joint roadmap for zero-emission HGVs in north-west Europe will be developed and cooperation with other EU regions initiated.

The project, which runs until March 2020, wants to promote knowledge sharing between regions and stimulate technology and market development in north west Europe.

California has also announced plans this week to build the business case for hydrogen HGVs through a new modelling tool.

Free LoCITY roadshow for freight operators looking to switch to electric vehicles


LoCITY, sponsored by TfL, is to host a free-of-charge roadshow for freight operators looking to run electric vans or trucks on their fleets.

The electric roadshow is the first of four free interactive events to help operators experience the latest ultra-low-emission commercial vehicles.

Other sessions scheduled are: gas, hydrogen and fuels in action (which includes renewable fuels and retrofit solutions).

The electric vehicle roadshow will be a half-day event held on the morning of 12 July at the University of East London.

Visitors will be able to see a selection of electric vans and trucks available to operate; learn about charging infrastructure; and understand the commercial benefits of operating electric vehicles.

Register your interest to attend today to receive further information.

Clocs rolls out pilot scheme to help HGV operators assess delivery site conditions

A tool to show HGV operators the ground conditions they will encounter at construction and waste sites has been developed for Clocs by consultancy Aecom.

Announced at last week’s Tip-ex and Tank-ex shows in Harrogate, the new website tool grades all sites with a five-star rating (see box, below) to show which vehicles will be able to access them.

The aim is to help operators confidently order low-entry-cab models (LEC) and N3 (on-road) trucks as opposed to traditionally picking N3G specification HGVs for operations that never face the true off-road conditions they are designed for.

The site assessment is based on four ground-condition categories: approach angle; materials; rutting and bumps; and water. These four categories have been identified as the most important factors in determining which vehicle types can operate on sites safely.

Weather can considerably effect site conditions and alter the outcome of the rating, so assessment ensures to take this into consideration.

Clocs on-site ground conditions rating
• 5 Star: Site ground conditions suitable for all vehicle types including LECs (in all weather conditions)
• 4 Star: Site ground conditions suitable for all vehicle types including LECs (weather permitting)
• 3 Star: Site ground conditions suitable for most vehicle types including on- and off-road capable HGVs (not LECs)
• 2 Star: Site ground conditions suitable for off-road capable HGVs only (in all weather conditions)
• 1 Star: Site ground conditions only suitable for plant machinery and weather permitting, may be suitable for off-road capable HGVs

In the first stage of the pilot, all sites across the South East – as the project has been funded by TfL – have received a provisional rating based on satellite imagery.

The next stage will see the rollout of a guidance handbook, also available online, to all sites, with owners encouraged to verify their rating through a simple assessment procedure.

“Should we then start rolling this out across the UK? Are the categories right?” asked independent logistics consultant at firm AtoH Glen Davies, who encouraged feedback from operators. “This is a pilot and is the first time it’s ever been done.”

Speaking to Tip-ex visitors at the Clocs seminar session, Davies said the logistics sector had already stepped up to the challenge of making vehicle movements as safe as possible in an urban environment.

However, he added as London mayor Sadiq Khan’s political aim is to remove “dangerous trucks” from the capital’s streets, it was essential that site conditions were of a good standard to avoid contributing to the issue.

“There is a real balance of need to make sure the physical conditions are right,” he said. “We need to improve the sites to make sure vehicles aren’t damaged and remain fit for the road.”

Davies added: “In Scandinavia they do it really well. Trucks never have to leave the hardstanding, so only need N3G specs when working on a site and never leave it; demonstrating a segregated approach to the use of their vehicles.”