In the track of smart logistics, a “new force of smart trucks” has emerged.
Just on July 28, Pony.ai and Sany Heavy Truck officially announced the establishment of a joint venture to jointly create a new brand targeting high-end self-driving heavy trucks.
A simple understanding is: Pony.ai provides the technology and hardware for autonomous trucks; Sany Heavy Truck is responsible for the production and manufacture of vehicles, and jointly participates in the definition, R&D, production and sales of L4 heavy-duty truck products.
Sany Heavy Truck, as the pioneer of the digital and intelligent transformation of Sany Group, and the national sales champion of new energy heavy trucks in 2021, this time with Pony.ai is undoubtedly a recognition of its technical strength and commercialization potential.
More importantly, the cooperation between the two parties has now made more substantial progress.
It is understood that the first autonomous driving prototype based on the Sany New Energy truck platform has been tested and verified on the real road.
Pony Smart Card accelerates mass production
As one of the two main business segments of Pony.ai, Pony.ai has always attracted much attention.
As early as 2018, Pony.ai started pre-research on the truck business internally. After nearly three years of preparation, Pony.ai officially established a truck division in early 2021, and launched the “Pony.Smart Card” brand to accelerate the pace of mass production.
In the past year, there has been a lot of good news for Pony Smart Card, including the first batch of road test licenses and highway test licenses for autonomous trucks issued by the Beijing Intelligent Connected Vehicle Policy Pilot Zone; the establishment of a partnership with Sinotrans. Joint venture company; obtained the qualification for demonstration operation of logistics vehicles in Guangzhou, etc.
The establishment of a joint venture with Sany Heavy Truck this time is also another milestone on the road to commercialization of Pony Smart Cards.
According to Li Hengyu, vice president of Pony.ai and head of the truck division, autonomous driving, as an applied technology, will ultimately achieve large-scale commercial use. In order to achieve this goal, the software and hardware technology of autonomous driving must be deeply integrated with the vehicle technology platform.
In other words, the establishment of a joint venture between Pony.ai and Sany Heavy Truck is to lay a solid foundation for the mass production of autonomous driving.
So, how should a front-loaded mass-produced self-driving truck be built?
Try to think of it as a human driver, with an intelligent brain and a strong body.
As mentioned at the beginning, regarding the specific division of labor for this cooperation, Pony.ai will provide the core “virtual driver” autonomous driving technical capabilities and a domain controller based on the NVIDIA DRIVE Orin system-level chip design to undertake the “smart driving” of autonomous trucks. brain” function.
Not long ago, Pony.com released a 6-hour one-shot video with no takeover. In the video, it can be seen that the vehicle is calmly responding to various real long-tail scenarios during driving, and the driving level of the “virtual driver” is remarkable. .
As far as we know, this is also the longest no-takeover video of a self-driving truck track.
On the other hand, as the leader of new energy heavy trucks, Sany heavy trucks have profound technical accumulation in vehicle development and manufacturing, which can help self-driving trucks build a “robust physique”.
At present, most of the heavy trucks in the freight field use non-wire-controlled chassis trucks, and generally adopt the scheme of rear-mounted automatic driving system, which has no advantages in vehicle control efficiency and redundant backup.
Only by in-depth cooperation with car companies can we create self-driving truck products that can greatly improve logistics efficiency and vehicle safety, while reducing logistics costs and driver labor intensity.
According to the plans of the two parties, the joint venture will realize the mass production and delivery of small-scale self-driving trucks within this year, and start mass production in 2024. In a few years, the annual output is expected to exceed 10,000 vehicles.
Moreover, the joint venture will combine the current advantages and historical accumulation of the two parent companies, and is expected to become an industry-leading high-end smart heavy-duty truck brand within five years.
“Golden Triangle”, closed loop is not closed
In fact, the cooperation with Sany Heavy Truck is an important part of Pony.ai’s creation of the “Golden Triangle”.
Prior to this, the development path of autonomous truck players can be divided into the following two categories:
The first category is “light”, providing automatic driving technology for the scene party, or as tier1 or tier2 of the OEM. This model lacks dominance, and it is difficult to quickly advance and realize many of the needs of autonomous driving for the vehicle itself;
The first category is “heavy”, self-built fleets, to provide operation services for the scene side, and the construction of the operation platform will become a dependency, and one loses all loses.
The “Golden Triangle” that Pony.ai is promoting is a brand new road, that is, through in-depth cooperation with vehicle manufacturers and logistics service providers, to form a commercial closed loop for autonomous trucks.
Previously, Pony.ai and China Merchants Group’s Sinotrans Co., Ltd. have established a joint venture, Qingyi Logistics, with the aim of creating a smart logistics capacity platform centered on autonomous driving technology.
In order to facilitate the commercial implementation of self-driving heavy trucks, Sinotrans will provide Qingyi Logistics with an operation team, customer resources, and operation routes and networks across the country.
It is understood that Qingyi Logistics has launched its business in an orderly manner in April this year, and has invested more than 100 trucks in the market to start the container transportation business. It also helped to undertake a part of the material distribution work during the epidemic period by relying on the advantages of the platform.
Combined with the cooperation between Pony.ai and Sany Heavy Truck, the golden triangle has begun to form – Pony.ai provides the underlying technology for autonomous driving, Sany Heavy Truck is responsible for the R&D and manufacturing of vehicles, and Sinotrans grafts real smart logistics application scenarios. A solid “technology-vehicle-scenario” perfect closed loop is formed between the three.
Once the golden triangle is in operation, under the influence of the scale effect, the operating cost advantage of autonomous trucks will become increasingly obvious. The more the number of vehicles, the more orders, the more data, the faster the system iteration speed, and all three parties will benefit. .
However, Li Hengyu also emphasized that the “Golden Triangle” is not exclusive, and the closed loop of commercialization itself is an open ecology.
Robotruck commercialization enters the fast lane
The reason why Pony.ai implements the “Golden Triangle” model is largely due to its deep understanding of:
Understanding the needs of the scene is an important factor for the commercial implementation of autonomous trucks.
In other words, whoever is closest to the scene can better understand the pain points in the actual operation of autonomous trucks, and then cooperate with car companies to create products that better meet market needs.
Logistics is a veritable pillar industry of the national economy. At the same time, there are many hidden diseases in this traditional industry.
Nearly 40% of truck accidents on highways are caused by human factors, and 35% are caused by equipment blind spots. Commercial vehicles have an accident rate of 1.9 per million kilometers.
Moreover, in the traditional logistics industry, market efficiency is low, drivers are difficult to accept orders, prices are opaque, and services are lacking.
According to reports, in the scenario of trunk logistics, labor costs account for 20%-30% of the overall transportation cost.
It can be seen that the trunk line logistics and transportation demand is large and the industry has many pain points, but compared with the urban scene, the expressway has a structured design and the road conditions are simpler. These all provide natural conditions for the landing of self-driving trucks to a large extent.
If virtual drivers are used to replace human driving, accidents caused by fatigue and distraction of human drivers will be greatly reduced, and labor costs and management costs will also be reduced; and transportation efficiency will be further improved.
This is why, including Pony.ai, many self-driving truck players are the first to target the “trunk logistics” scenario.
However, the commercial landing of self-driving trucks is not a purely technical issue in nature. On the one hand, cluster operations of technology, vehicles, and scenarios are required, and on the other hand, policy support is also inseparable.
In recent years, relevant policies have increased the attention to the landing of autonomous trucks, and the highway is the first breakthrough.
Just last year, Beijing issued road test licenses for high-level autonomous driving demonstration zones, and then Pony Smart Card entered the Beijing-Taiwan Expressway to carry out L4-level normalized autonomous driving tests.
It is understood that this is the first time that an autonomous driving company nationwide has conducted a high-level autonomous driving test on a public high-speed road section open to policies, which is of great significance.
In addition to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and other places are promoting the process of commercial implementation of self-driving heavy trucks, including the issuance of relevant test licenses and the construction of dedicated lanes for self-driving trucks.
“Not long ago, Beijing has liberalized the commercial operation of autonomous driving (passenger cars) with unmanned drivers. We believe that policies will be gradually introduced for trucks, and we are confident to obtain corresponding licenses.” Li Hengyu said.
At present, many specific data can support the practice and exploration of Pony.com.
Since obtaining the first autonomous truck test license in December 2021, Pony Smart Card has been operating on public roads for nearly 600 days, with a road test mileage of more than 1 million kilometers. In May 2021, Xiaoma obtained a freight road transportation business license to carry out commercial operation of self-driving trucks.
As of mid-July 2022, the total weight of self-driving trucks in commercial operation is 27,106 tons, and the commercial operation mileage reaches 211,683 kilometers. In addition, the self-driving long-distance route verification project jointly carried out with Sinotrans exceeded 75,000 kilometers, and the proportion of automatic driving in the whole process reached 97%.
“With the gradual opening up of domestic policies, the self-driving truck market has a huge space for imagination, and the development opportunity is favorable, and commercialization is expected to be realized earlier.” Li Hengyu said, “Our goal is to finally achieve ‘smooth flow of goods’.”
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