The transformation to the next generation of mobility is likely to be drastic. While the new stakeholders outside the traditional automotive industry continue to disrupt the industry landscape, OEMs are increasingly looking at newer technologies shaping the landscape, zeroing on the relevant ones and making long-term investments for their development. With faster proliferation and penetration of promising connectivity, vehicles are being empowered to have newer capabilities through seamless and spontaneous interactions without vehicles on road. Transportation continues to be the backbone for fast moving lifestyle and people are heavily dependent on better transit facilities and new innovations in the auto sector, as traffic and pollution problems continue to plague the society as a whole.
Swedish commercial vehicle giant Scania has unveiled a new battery electric bus module, the self-driving urban NXT concept vehicle that has been designed with the flexibility to shift from ferrying commuters to and from work in mornings and evenings, delivering goods during the day and collecting refuse at night. Based on a modular system, the concept vehicle can change shape for varying assignments, as urban cities are now catalysing change in the transport system, largely driven by the need for lower emissions and less congestion.
NXT for Future Transport
The NXT concept vehicle by Scania is an eight-metre long vehicle and has separate drive modules that control and steer the vehicle along with functional modules. The bus body consists of one single composite material module that reduces the total vehicle weight to less than eight tonnes. The bus module has the capacity for 20 seated passengers and 55 in total. Without a driver’s area, the entire interior area can be used to carry passengers. Energy is stored in each functional module’s battery unit and each functional module can be removed and replaced by another with a fully charged battery, while transitioning between applications. The cylindrical cell batteries have a total capacity of 162 kWh and are placed under the bus floor to optimise weight distribution. Combined with the low vehicle weight, the vehicle can achieve a range of around 245 kilometres, as per the simulations conducted by Scania engineers.
Scania claims that the concept vehicle is extremely agile on city streets, and thanks to its hub engines and fully steered wheels, the NXT concept vehicle gets a turning radius of just 10.5 metres, better than many passenger cars. With crab steering mode, the front and rear wheels turn in the same direction, thus enabling the bus to align perfectly with the pavement for ease of passenger entry and exit. For added power, the roof of the concept vehicle has been equipped with a limited number of solar panels. If the entire 20 m2 roof is covered with solar panels, this has the potential to generate nearly 3 kW of added power, the company noted. To save on power-consuming heating, NXT has been equipped with an infrared heating system that reduces energy requirements by 60 percent as compared to traditional convection heaters. Rather than heating indoor air, the infrared heaters keep passengers warm, while also warming seat fabrics for added comfort.
The autonomous concept vehicle is equipped with state-of-the-art integrated sensor system that enables the vehicle to scan the entire surroundings and obtain a 360-degree view for driving and traffic detection. Cameras on the front, back and sides are complemented by radar and lidar. People in the vicinity of the vehicle will be alerted to its approach by LED lighting throughout the front, sides and back.
NXT concept vehicle also confirms through lighting and sound that it is aware of a passing pedestrian or cyclist. This is done in three steps: Initially the vehicle will signal through a laser beam that it has observed the person. If that warning goes unnoticed, the vehicle will amplify LED-lighting and finally emit a sound.
The communication between a self-driving vehicle and the people moving around it has been highlighted as especially important since many pedestrians on city streets make, what to many, is an almost an unconscious contact with drivers of trucks and buses before crossing streets,” says Michael Bedell, Transport Designer, Scania. However, he added that when the slight nod from a driver disappears, it is clear how much value that contact adds - something that needs to be programmed into autonomous vehicles.
Many of the interior features in the NXT concept vehicle compensate for the lack for driver. Lights in the ceiling inform passengers when the vehicle is about to start or stop and the bus module is also equipped with a warning system to alert those disembarking of unsafe oncoming traffic. Upon entering, passengers can immediately see information about public transport connections and communicate with a human operator via a sphere-shaped touch pad.
Technological and infrastructural advances in electric and autonomous vehicles will be key enablers for cities when shifting to a sustainable transport system. Public transport has always meant sharing that needs to be taken to the next level as we look at newer options for clean and greener mobility. Not all are equipped to redraw the entire transport system for cities; however, with a higher degree of automation, it will be simpler to introduce greater flexibility in public transport as continuous improvement in small steps can lead to a giant leap into the future.