Volvo, Aurora Unveil Production-Ready Autonomous Tractor

The Two Companies Have Been Collaborating for Years
Volvo VNL
The Volvo VNL Autonomous features redundant safety systems and a more tightly integrated sensor suite. (Seth Clevenger/Transport Topics)

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LAS VEGAS — Volvo Trucks has unveiled its first production-ready autonomous Class 8 tractor, which combines its newly updated VNL model with Aurora Innovation’s automated driving technology.

The company’s Volvo Autonomous Solutions business unit unveiled its Volvo VNL Autonomous truck during a May 20 press conference at Advanced Clean Transportation Expo 2024.

Volvo and Aurora’s engineering teams worked together to integrate the sensor suite and onboard computing components of the Aurora Driver into the vehicle design, which features an aerodynamic design for the sensor suite along the truck’s roof.

To enable the vehicle to operate without a driver onboard, Volvo equipped the truck with an array of redundant safety systems, including braking, steering, communications, computation, power management and energy storage.

“This truck is purpose-designed, purpose-built for the autonomous use case,” said Nils Jaeger, president of Volvo Autonomous Solutions.

The Volvo VNL Autonomous is the product of several years of collaboration between Volvo and Aurora.

The companies first worked together on self-driving truck development in 2018 before announcing a formal development partnership in March 2021, then debuted an early prototype of an autonomous VNL later that year.

“This truck marks the culmination of six years between our teams,” said Sterling Anderson, Aurora’s co-founder and chief product officer.

He described the vehicle as a “superhuman asset” with lidar sensors that can see three times as far at night as a human driver can see with their high beams, along with high-resolution radar that can see through fog and rain that would obscure a human’s vision.

“On the sensing side, this is far better than a human could ever be,” Anderson said.

Beyond that, the Aurora Driver also can constantly monitor the vehicle’s surroundings, track other vehicles and objects and predict their movement all at once, he added.

Volvo plans to assemble the autonomous vehicle at its flagship New River Valley plant in Dublin, Va. The company will be prepared to produce the vehicle at the pace and scale that the industry demands, said Sasko Cuklev, head of on-road solutions at Volvo Autonomous Solutions.

“This truck is the key enabler for the autonomous transport solution that we are delivering,” Cuklev said. “It is built ground-up for autonomous use with scalability and industrialization in mind.”

Aurora has designed its autonomous driving system to enable driverless operation on specific routes between designated logistics hubs. This hub-to-hub model could enable fleet operators to shift some longhaul drivers toward shorthaul routes that offer more home time and generally experience lower turnover rates.

The Aurora Driver already has driven 1.5 million miles in commercial freight operations on public roads for pilot customers with a safety driver still behind the wheel.

Aurora intends to begin deploying a small fleet of fully autonomous trucks in Texas later this year.

In addition to its work with Volvo Trucks, Aurora is partnering with Paccar Inc., parent of the Kenworth and Peterbilt truck brands. 

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