The semi-automated Xcient was able to drive itself largely without human input.
The semi-automated Xcient was able to drive itself largely without human input.

The prospect of self-delivering loads took a step into the future when Hyundai Motor Company’s Xcient truck recently completed a 40km autonomously navigated highway journey, the first to take place in South Korea.

The semi-trailer truck, which has a maximum load capacity of 40 tons, was semi-equipped with a level 3 autonomous driving system, enabling it to steer, accelerate or decelerate, and manoeuvre through traffic without human input.

"This successful demonstration proves innovative autonomous driving technology can be used to transform the trade logistics industry," said Maik Ziegler, director of Commercial Vehicle R&D Strategy Group at Hyundai Motor Company.

"At this stage, a human driver is still used to control the vehicle manually in certain situations, but I think we will achieve level 4 automation soon as we are constantly upgrading our technological capability."

Level 3 as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers means a vehicle can make complex decisions but requires a human driver to take over in certain cases, for instance if the road’s painted lines disappear.

With level 4 automation the vehicle can handle any driving situation by itself in most environments, even if the human driver doesn’t respond to a request to intervene.

The Xcient truck trip, between Uiwang and Incheon, took place on August 21 and was held in co-operation with Hyundai Motor’s trade subsidiary, Hyundai Glovis. The truck stayed within the expressway speed limit of 90km/h through the one-hour journey, along one of South Korea’s busiest freight routes.

Although a human driver was onboard to take over manual control when required, the vehicle’s technology features enabled it to maintain and change lanes during the natural flow of traffic, detect lane changes made by vehicles in front of it, navigate through tunnels, and perform a complete halt or accelerate according to road traffic.

The semi-trailer truck is about 3.5 times longer, 1.4 times wider and 9.2 times heavier than the average compact sedan. This requires an advanced and detailed autonomous navigation system. Accordingly, Hyundai Motor equipped sensors similar to the ones featured in autonomous cars, and additional sensors optimised for heavy-duty trucks, such as a hitch angle sensor and trailer rear radar sensor, meaning the truck could be safely stabilised on sharp turns.

The data collected by each sensor is synchronised with the HD map, which relays information to the control module for localisation. The module controls the speed, steering and braking accordingly.

A new steering control system called MAHS (Motor Assist Hydraulic Steering), developed by Hyundai Mobis, was also implemented, providing a precise steering mechanism that controls the steering angle depending on the decision made by the electronic control unit. This minimises the effort required to steer the vehicle, reducing driver fatigue.

"Hyundai Glovis’ success in utilising self-driving trucks as part of its delivery service proves that the self-driving technology is being utilised in actual logistics transport and can lead to mutual development," said Sang-Sok Suh, head of strategy and planning group at Hyundai Glovis. "The company will be a leader in adopting future mobility technology such as autonomous driving for the trade logistics industry."