In an interview with WorldCargo News, Dr Rafiq Swash, CEO and founder of London-based AiDrivers, said he believes autonomous vehicles are poised to make a major impact in industrial applications, including in ports and logistics.
This month, the company revealed that in October 2018, it was awarded an ‘Autonomous Prime Movers (APM) proof of concept project’ by PSA Singapore.
“The goal is to retrofit AI-en- abled autonomous solutions for horizontal mobility automation at PSA’s Pasir Panjang Terminal. Two diesel trucks have been converted to fully autonomous vehicles using AiDrivers’ AI- enabled autonomous drive plat- forms and have been running in trials since 2019,” AiDrivers said in a statement.
“The APM capabilities cover the aptitude to work in day and night conditions with differ- ent loading configurations and mixed traffic environments. The multisensory data fusion technology is designed to work in busy port situations, ensuring safety and precision.”
PSA has chosen AGVs for its new Tuas Mega Port development, but it plans to continue operating the Pasir Panjang terminals until 2045. These terminals use a large fleet of prime movers (tractor/trailers), and there is a continuing shortage of prime mover drivers in Singapore, at PSA and other logistics companies.
Besides retrofitting projects at brownfield terminals, Dr Swash believes APMs will replace AGVs entirely in the near future. Although AGV technology is already mature, they are relatively expensive machines. By contrast, APMs are based on the lighter and cost-effective platform of a prime mover, or a terminal tractor with extended intelligence for safety and self-aware operations. Even retrofitted with an autonomous navigation kit, an APM is less than half the capital cost of an AGV and weighs less than half as much. Dr Swash pointed out that this is just for the vehicle itself. AGVs also re- quire significantly higher investment in infrastructure to cater for the higher load capacity as AGVs are much heavier, with fewer wheels and, therefore, higher wheel loads. Significant investment is also required for transponders embedded under the road surface for navigation systems and their maintenance.
Despite the potential of APMs, the fact remains that the industry will take some convincing that they can be deployed on a large scale in container terminals. It has not helped the case that autonomous road trucks have not followed the development path initially expected, with no widespread commercial deployments to date. In fact, some of the companies that developed autonomous technology for road trucks are now looking at terminal tractors, as this is a less demanding application to start with.
Dr Swash said that AiDrivers now has several years’ of R&D experience in port applications, including developing the different layers of situation-aware collision avoidance and safety systems that terminal operators require. AiDrivers recently announced a partnership with SICK, which is well known for its sensors technologies in the areas of safety and collision avoidance.
The company has also developed a 3D digital twin for like- to-like autonomous mobility automation to carry out complex tests and various use cases in a simulated environment prior to real operational tests. According to Dr Swash, terminal operators typically want to see how the APM system will behave in complex traffic flow situations, and “today we can literally demonstrate how autonomy will behave in different scenarios”.
Besides PSA and other terminal operators, AiDrivers continues to work with a number of equipment OEMs, including Sany, Terberg and the recently announced partner, Hyzon Motors. Despite the challenges of getting its technology quickly to market, Dr Swash is adamant that autonomous vehicles will become mainstream in the port industry in the near future.“Our mission is intact.We are meeting industrial needs for resilience and safety,” he concluded.