July 29, 2022: -On Thursday, Self-driving tech start-up Pony.ai announced that it plans to mass produce autonomous moving trucks in China with equipment manufacturing big Sany Heavy Industry.
Annual production is set to reach nearly 10,000 trucks “within a few years,” according to a press release. Small-scale deliveries will start this year, and mass production will begin in 2024.
The trucks are slated to come with “Level 4” autonomous driving technology, allowing full self-driving on highways and urban roads, according to Pony.ai. “L4″ is part of an industry category system that designates complete self-driving under distinct conditions.
Under current rules in China, the robot trucks won’t be able to operate fully autonomously.
Pony.ai said it only has testing access in Beijing and Guangzhou for autonomous trucks. But the group expects to operate L4 trucks in China as regulations develop.
Pony.ai’s autonomous driving system uses the Nvidia Drive Orin chip, similar to several Chinese electric car companies offering driver-assisted driving technology.
Some, but not all, of the planned trucks will be “new energy vehicles,” a category that includes electric vehicles.
Pony.ai declined Thursday to share additional information about the cost per truck and whether the trucks would only be available in China.
Sany has offices globally, while Pony.ai also operates in the U.S. The robotruck mass production deal is part of a strategic joint venture between Pony.ai and Sany Heavy Truck, a Sany subsidiary.
Analysts generally expect robot trucks to take off more quickly than robotaxis due to the more uniform nature of truck routes along highways. The daily truck drives typically last for hours versus far shorter taxi rides.
Pony.ai, which operates robotaxis, declared autonomous trucks could save 10% to 20% of energy reached with traditional trucks.
Companies from Daimler to Walmart are testing self-driving trucks. Tesla has announced a partly autonomous electric truck called Semi that has run into production and delivery delays.
Walmart said in November that for about three months, it had operated two self-driving trucks for 12 hours a day on a 7-mile route between two Walmart facilities in the U.S.
In China, automaker Geely revealed plans in the previous year to roll out an electric truck in 2024, with completely autonomous driving capability in 2030.