Auto Tech

Hyundai's self-driving truck completes first highway jaunt in South Korea

It's only Level 3 automation, though, so it still required a human to oversee everything.

Hyundai

Hyundai is hard at work on its own solution for autonomous vehicles, but it's not limiting itself to passenger cars.

Hyundai announced Wednesday that it has completed the first autonomous truck trip in South Korea. A Hyundai Xcient semitruck successfully completed a 40-kilometer (about 25-mile) journey from Uiwang to Incheon, dragging a trailer full of cargo all the while.

Look, ma, no hands!

Hyundai

The truck was equipped with SAE Level 3 autonomy, which means it's fully capable of accelerating, braking and steering its own way down the highway. Unlike higher levels of automation, however, Level 3 still requires a human to act as the final fallback in case the system cannot handle a situation, and of course, Hyundai had a human in the driver's seat at the ready.

"This successful demonstration proves that innovative autonomous driving technology can be used to transform the trade logistics industry," said Maik Ziegler, Hyundai's director of commercial-vehicle R&D, in a statement. "At this stage, a human driver is still used to control the vehicle manually in certain situations, but I think we will achieve level 4 automation soon, as we are constantly upgrading our technological capability."

In terms of hardware, the truck packed three separate cameras facing in various directions and two different radar emitters front and rear, as well as three lidar emitters on the front and sides. It was also equipped with a hitch angle sensor that allowed the system to determine the different angles of the cab and trailer to ensure sharp turns were handled safely. It crunched that sensor data and applied it over HD mapping to "see" the road ahead.

This was the first time that South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport granted an autonomous driving permit to a full-size truck. It's not the first self-driving truck to hit real highways: Back in 2016, a Volvo truck retrofitted with Otto sensors and Uber software successfully delivered a shipment of Budweiser across Colorado. 

Next, Hyundai plans to work on platooning, which involves multiple trucks driving close to one another in a line, which could vastly improve efficiency. It hopes to have that system put together by the next decade.