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Research Report: Latest Situation with Robot Vehicles

Commercial vehicles are going battery-electric, assisted by battery life of one million miles (fit-and-forget). Shenzhen alone has 70,000 electric logistics vehicles. 

Coming next are robot buses, robotrucks and robotaxis, with driver elimination reducing cost by intensive use.

For cities, they will replace ten or more types of vehicle.  And they will be allowed to go where none of these are allowed, such as down paths, across plazas, into shopping malls, symmetrical so no U-turns, with some even moving sideways when needed.

Superb technology roadmap

Analysis of 36 robot shuttles and their targeted issues. Leaders are shown blue. Declared objectives are shown next. Capacity refers to approximate number of seats but formats change. Preference is around 4 (16%) and around 14 (84%). Source: IDTechEx Research: www.IDTechEx.com/Shuttles

To be expected are multiple paybacks such as windows on all sides carrying moving color advertising paying the cost of the school bus mode twice a day.

Toyota Woven City plans robot shuttles as the only vehicles allowed centrally, so no congestion or accidents. Its e-Palette robot shuttles reconfigure from fast food to utility vehicles, taxis, buses, hire cars, parcel post and mobile libraries. The poor and disabled are empowered. No sidewalks needed.

However, all robot vehicles need to wait to 2030 or so to go big time with trusted, safe, insurable, legal, affordable Level 5 autonomy with no driver capability.

Then exponential growth to $18 billion in 2040 awaits.

Latest Developments

There are 36 projects in 15 countries with trials in 20 countries. Ignore those using golf cars or small buses. They are unable to test even the shuttle essentials such as no U-turns, travel and impact strength in two directions, smallest footprint per passenger, rapid reconfiguration.

The best types emerging are upright, boxy, 8-20 person symmetrical vehicles with a small footprint, all-round vision, large sliding doors, quiet, zero-emission and able perform many different tasks even in one day, surviving intensive use, gated to never exceed 50-60 kph.

They are backed by giants like Toyota and Baidu to startups, one having raised $1 billion. Trials mainly explore new people applications, often free-of-charge, from empowering the poor and disabled, inner circulators or viably filling in gaps in the transportation network and replacing much underutilized vehicles such as school buses and private cars.

Local Motors

Local Motors has recently received $15 million from Future Creation Fund II in Japan for its 80% 3D-printed Olli robot shuttle project trialing worldwide. Its new partner, Florida’s Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) provider BEEP, plans to deploy hundreds.

Olli 2.0 has 160 km range, speed of up to 40 km/h. Its Protean in-wheel motors improve safety, performance and space.

Perhaps it will fit Protean 360 degree motor-wheels next – like castors on a trolley (See the IDTechEx report, “Electric Motors for Electric Vehicles: Land, Water, Air 2020-2030“).

Einride And Streat Are Subsets

Number of robot shuttles trialling by country by type. Source: IDTechEx report “Robot Shuttles and Autonomous Buses 2020-2040”, www.IDTechEx.com/Shuttles

Swedish “Einride Pods” are remotely-controlled electric trucks with no driver’s cab. Lee Sungwook has recently drawn a concept food truck “Streat” like a windowless robot shuttle. This autonomous, pre-fab food-truck would be customized based on the restaurant running within it and rented out at low cost, he suggests.

Pollution Drives Fewer, Not Just Cleaner Vehicles

Air pollution is now the world’s fourth killer (State of Global Air Report late 2020) – 4.5 million deaths from outdoor air pollution in 2019. Over 90% of the global population lives in areas where fine particulate matter levels do not meet the World Health Organization guidelines. Since even “zero-emission” vehicles emit these particles from their tires, the message is now fewer, not just cleaner vehicles.

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