Automatization and electrification revolutionize machine and vehicle industries

Autonomous and sustainable systems are revolutionizing transport and machines industries, making them safer, responsible and flexible. New technologies, services and data are generating business opportunities: cities, transport authorities and operators around the world search novel solutions for more fluent urban mobility while they also strive to reduce congestions and emissions and increase efficiency. The same goes for the mobile machinery industry that is currently also driven by automatization, electrification and digitalization.

Automatization and electrification open huge market opportunities for stellar sustainable and flexible solutions. For example, the city of Helsinki aims to become carbon-neutral by 2035. One of the means is to cut traffic emissions from the transport sector by 50% from 2005 levels by 2030. Obviously, this requires among other things more low emission service driven and user-centric (mass) transport. In Greater Helsinki, for instance, there is a plan to have up to 400 electric busses by 2025.

Investments in infrastructures

This transformation is not just about fleet but also about infrastructure. Route network and energy grids must be properly designed and taken into account for assessing e.g., total costs and socio-economic impacts. Charging infrastructures and equipment require investments, such as power systems capable of supplying both automatic fast charging interfaces with pantographs and plug-in charging in waiting positions in nodal points of traffic. There’s also need for charging interfaces in the electric buses and most likely dozens of charging points for bus operations in Helsinki. Many of these should enable shared use for other vehicles.

All technical possibilities must be reviewed to ensure cost-effective infrastructures for different vehicle types. Also, we must take into account synergic use of the existing electrical power systems, development in battery and charging technologies, and optimal locations for chargers.

Electric machines in semi-closed areas

Electric vehicles have considerable potential in strictly structured high-capacity industries such as in airports, logistic hubs, ports, mines and wood logistics. In these closed or semi-closed areas the increasing use of electric machines challenges the electric grid. There are no common practices on which terms electric machines can be added to an existing grid, and how to plan the grid for all-electric mines. The solutions should minimize investment and maintenance costs and, simultaneously, maintain reliability, balancing, harmonization and quality of electricity supply.

Towards remotely operated worksites

Another raising issue is improving safety in hazardous areas. It is challenging to get skilled personnel to work in remote, sometimes elusive worksites. This opens a potential market for remotely operated and/or automated work machines. Despite similarities in technologies and challenges, each of these worksites calls for different solutions. Finnish companies have excellence and important market share in many work machine industry sectors, providing a good ground for collaboration, cross-learning and novel innovation ecosystems.

A long road to go

Despite the vast and costly product development undertaken by the industry, traffic authorities and public funders, fully automated vehicles are still fairly primitive. They are capable of traveling on roads at up to 50 kilometers per hour in areas covered by accurate mapping data and during sunny weather. Vehicles moving unrestrictedly 24/7 in severe conditions (snowfall, dust, slush, fog, ice…) are still a distant dream, perhaps ten years away.

The current sources of sensory data are not sufficiently reliable in harsh conditions, and the processing capacity of machines and vehicles is far from the human brain. Technology has just reached a point where sensors for “talking and hearing” can be installed. However, the technology is continuously evolving and the opportunities are increasing daily. Laws of physics cannot be changed but if you know science behind them, you can detour drawbacks.

World-leading expertise from Finland and VTT

Finland is home to technological excellence in autonomous machines and vehicles. Automated and remote controlled systems have been developed in Finnish non-road mobile machinery industry since early 1990s, and Finland has a solid history in the R&D of world-leading autonomous, electric and hybrid solutions in non-road machinery for the mining, ports and forest sectors. Finland’s automotive industry, commercial vehicle and transport companies have also demonstrated their great ability to innovate.

VTT is your partner in planning and designing urban electric bus systems and energy grids as well as electrification of vehicles and machinery. We are also developing automated driving technologies with automotive and mobile work machinery industries. The solutions are based on our experience and piloting vehicles which have been developed since 1985 by tailoring in-vehicle environment perception, automated driving functions and V2X connectivity across Europe. VTT is also well known impartial evaluation and validation partner for automated driving, mobility services and vehicle systems. Our core business is development of novel systems coming to markets in 3-5 years time-frame.

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Aki Aapaoja, Customer Account Lead, aki.aapaoja@vtt.fi

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