A British clean vehicle consortium, known as Hub2Hub  and led by UK based Hydrogen Vehicle Systems (HVS), has been awarded an $AUD11million (£6.6 million) to develop and deliver a autonomous zero-emission heavy goods vehicle.

HVS is a UK-based hydrogen-powered commercial vehicle start which has laid out its plans to disrupt the haulage industry using hydrogen- electric powertrain technology which it showed in November last year, with a demonstrator truck. HVS will receive around $6 million (£3.4 million) as one of seven grants announced today from the Centre for Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV and Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) program in the UK .

The consortium, made up of HVS, Fusion Processing Ltd and ASDA,  says it will build two prototype vehicles that will allow Level 4 autonomous-driving saying that it will accelerate toward the next generation of transportation and logistics.

The Hub2Hub consortium  says it will create a self-driving heavy prime mover, which will begin vehicles trials in 2024, with major UK retailer, ASDA, supporting on end user needs as strategic partners. It’s hoped that the cost savings an autonomous lorry could provide will speed up the adoption of zero-emissions vehicles by the freight sector, reducing the industry’s contribution to climate change.

The $AUD21 million (£12 million)  venture was selected by CCAV as a recipient for the joint industry and government-funded project with the aim of showcasing the potential of autonomy in the transportation sector with what it says will be unprecedented levels of efficiency, safety and operational cost savings for logistics operators, as well as providing new employment opportunities.

HVS says the first  hydrogen-electric heavy truck prototype will be fitted with a driver’s cab and tested on the road in autonomous operation, using Fusion Processing’s automated drive system, known as CAVStar, with a human safety driver at the wheel.

It says the second prototype will have the driver’s cab removed and replaced by an aerodynamic fairing, and during the project it will be evaluated on test tracks, with the CAVStar system  allowing a remote human driver, located in a control hub, to operate the vehicle.

The company says  that together these two prototypes point to an optimised future logistics system where vehicles could be operated in autonomous mode on a hub-to-hub route, with a remote driver then taking control to drive the vehicle from the hub to its end destination.

HVS says that not only will its innovative heavy hydrogen truck decarbonise one of the biggest polluting vehicle sectors on the road, it claims will also expedite the development of Hub-to-Hub automated driving technology.

Fusion  is a UK leader in autonomous vehicle technology and its collaboration in the project will see the development and integration of its advanced CAVstar system where a fusion of vision systems, AI and route planning can deliver a fully autonomous vehicle that takes over from a human driver and hands back control at pre-determined hubs on a route.

The result will help British companies seize early opportunities to develop experimental projects into scalable commercial offerings, ready for the market.

HVS CEO Jawad Khursheed  said that with a transport revolution taking place in the UK and this consortium, is at the forefront of the innovation.

“We are engineering the world’s first autonomous hydrogen-electric powered HGV to demonstrate hub-to-hub logistics to a leading retailer, ASDA, to elevate public perception, showcasing the potential autonomy can deliver thanks to increased safety and fuel savings, and develop new business models.” said Khursheed

Meantime the UK government’s Business Secretary Grant Shapps said: the business of self-driving vehicles could add tens of billions to the national economy and create tens of thousands of jobs across in just a few years time.

” This is a massive opportunity to drive forward our priority to grow the economy, which we are determined to seize.,” Shapps said.

“The support we are providing today will help our transport and technology pioneers steal a march on the global competition, by turning their bright ideas into market-ready products sooner than anyone else,” he added.

Jim Hutchinson, the CEO of Fusion Processing  says  that its market analysis indicates that the commercial vehicle segments such as haulage are where we will see large scale deployments of autonomous vehicle technology first.

“Hub2Hub is a perfect showcase of what the advanced version of our CAVstar Automated Drive System can achieve. Combining SAE Level 4 autonomous driving with tele-operation to deliver safer and more efficient vehicle operations,” said Hutchinson.

Sean Clifton, the senior fleet manager at retailer ASDA said that reducing its fleet emissions was a major part of its plan of moving towards net zero.

“So that means we are keen to look at innovative new technology, such as autonomous HGV tractor units, which can make a real difference to our carbon footprint. We will continue to work with like-minded partners on projects such as this to reduce our impact on the environment,” he said.

The consortium says that forecasts predict that by 2035, 40 per cent of new UK car sales will have self-driving capabilities, with a total market value for connected and automated mobility worth the equivalent of $AUD72.84 million (£41.7 billion) to the UK and could create nearly 40,000 skilled jobs in connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology.

They claim that autonomous, self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise haulage and logistics sectors, particularly the long-haul, heavy-duty goods vehicle market.

“Through the integration of ground-breaking sensor technology within the vehicle consisting of an array of radars, LIDARs, cameras, and Artificial Intelligence, it provides unprecedented operational safety without human intervention,” the Hub2Hub consortium says in its announcement release.

“The application of this advanced system offers a next-generation solution to today’s shortcomings in the haulage industry, namely solving issues of driver shortages and improvement in driver quality of life, thanks to remote tele-operated vehicles. Drivers can stay local as well as take advantage of less intensive driving shifts, for a greater work-life balance,” it added.

“Improved operational efficiencies will help create and support new business models by providing never-before-seen freedoms of transport logistics and reductions in vehicle TCO. The automated haulage depots and hubs used for autonomous vehicle technology will also offer improved usage of space, safety and efficiency for operators,” it concluded.