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Glasgow-based Hydrogen Vehicle Systems (HVS) has revealed that the consortium it leads, Hub2Hub, has been awarded £6.6m to develop and deliver what it describes as 'a revolutionary, world-first autonomous zero-emission HGV for the UK market'.

Hub2Hub will create a self-driving heavy goods tractor unit, which will begin vehicles trials in 2024 with the Asda supermarket chain.

The consortium, made up of HVS, Fusion Processing and Asda, will build two prototype vehicles that will allow Level 4 autonomous-driving.

The £12m venture has been selected by the Centre for Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) as a recipient for its joint industry and government-funded project.

It aims to showcase the potential of autonomy in the transportation sector with 'unprecedented levels of efficiency, safety and operational cost savings' for logistics operators, as well as providing new employment opportunities.

HVS laid out its plans to disrupt the haulage industry by revealing its hydrogen-electric powertrain technology demonstrator in November 2022.

It will receive £3.4m as one of seven grants being announced today (1 February) from the CCAV and Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) programme.

The first hydrogen-electric HGV prototype will be fitted with a driver’s cab and tested on the road in autonomous operation, using Fusion Processing’s Automated Drive System CAVStar, with a human safety driver at the wheel.

The second prototype will have the driver’s cab removed and replaced by an aerodynamic fairing. During the project this vehicle will be evaluated on test tracks, with the CAVStar system in this application allowing a remote human driver, located in a control hub, to operate the vehicle.

HVS said the two prototypes point to an optimised future logistics system where vehicles can be operated in autonomous mode on a hub-to-hub route, with a remote driver then taking control to drive the vehicle from the hub to its end destination.

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Fusion’s collaboration in the project will see the development and integration of the CAVstar system where 'a fusion of vision systems, AI and route planning can deliver a fully autonomous vehicle that takes over from a human driver and hands back control at pre-determined hubs on a route'.

The consortium hopes British companies will seize early opportunities to develop experimental projects into scalable commercial offerings, ready for the market.

HVS chief executive Jawad Khursheed commented: “A transport revolution is taking place in the UK and HVS, together with the consortium, is at the forefront of the innovation. We are engineering the world’s first autonomous hydrogen-electric powered HGV to demonstrate hub-to-hub logistics to a leading retailer, Asda, to elevate public perception, showcasing the potential autonomy can deliver thanks to increased safety and fuel savings, and develop new business models.”

Business Secretary Grant Shapps said: “In just a few years’ time, the business of self-driving vehicles could add tens of billions to our economy and create tens of thousands of jobs across the UK. This is a massive opportunity to drive forward our priority to grow the economy, which we are determined to seize.

“The support we are providing today will help our transport and technology pioneers steal a march on the global competition, by turning their bright ideas into market-ready products sooner than anyone else.”

Added Fusion Processing chief executive Jim Hutchinson: “Our market analysis indicates that the commercial vehicle segments such as haulage are where we will see autonomous vehicle technology first used in large scale deployments. Hub2Hub is a perfect showcase of what the advanced version of our CAVstar Automated Drive System can achieve. Combining SAE Level 4 autonomous driving with tele-operation to deliver safer and more efficient vehicle operations.”

Asda senior fleet manager Sean Clifton said: “Reducing our fleet emissions is a major part of our plan of moving towards net zero, so we are keen to look at innovative new technology, such as autonomous HGV tractor units, which can make a real difference to our carbon footprint. We will continue to work with like-minded partners on projects such as this to reduce our impact on the environment.”

Through the integration of sensor technology within the vehicle consisting of an array of radars, LIDARs, cameras, and AI, autonoous technology is said to provide unprecedented operational safety without human intervention.

HVS believes this offers a next-generation will solves issues of driver shortages and improvement in driver quality of life. Drivers can stay local, it said, as well as take advantage of less intensive driving shifts.

Fleet operators can also benefit by optimising vehicle utilisation during less busy hours, thereby making logistics more efficient and more environmentally friendly by avoiding congestion.

In addition, on-board advanced automated drive systems can reduce energy and tyre emissions by optimising acceleration and braking at a far greater level than human ability.

HVS added that improved operational efficiencies will help create and support new business models by providing never-before-seen freedoms of transport logistics and reductions in vehicle TCO. The automated haulage depots and hubs used for autonomous vehicle technology will also offer improved usage of space, safety and efficiency for operators.

For more stories tracking the industry journey to decarbonisation see our new Freight Carbon Zero website.