“Carrying out tests is so important to contribute to a more nuanced view towards autonomous vehicles. During our first test in Norra Djurgårdsstaden Hugo drove back and forth on the main walkway. People passed as if Hugo had always driven there. Even dogs took no notice. Of course, there was some attention as it is not every day that an autonomous vehicle is driving on the walkway, but I am pretty sure that the natural moving pattern shown around Hugo was a result of him driving slowly and always stopping as soon as someone got too close. Together with the way he is designed, small and friendly looking, it made people feel safe.”
From Hugo’s point of view, Carl Berge says that while it’s very easy to make something as a prototype, it’s very hard to make something a stable service – and that they’re at that stage now, where they are making this work and something they can deploy.
Connectivity is also extremely important. You need good, reliable connectivity for autonomous vehicles to drive seamlessly.
“We’ve noticed that we have dark zones, where the robot stops, so reliability is so important,” says Carl Berge. “This has to do in part with 5G still in the process of being rolled out, but also in one of our testing areas everything is built to be sustainable. This is great, but it also means that the way the buildings are built creates dark zones because the wireless is blocked. This doesn’t mean we can’t solve that – we just need to add different bay stations or points.
“The dark zones are one thing, while another thing is the GPS signal – it is OK but when we get close to a building it can get ten times worse. Also, it’s very technical stuff that can be challenging: we have really good computers on the robot, but then we need to match them with the sensors and do a lot of programming to make them behave the way we want them to, and that of course all takes a lot of time.”
Public perception is another area where there could be challenges, but Pernilla Kolni says it’s been very good, both from people and businesses in the area, and from media and the public
“As a governmental publicly owned company you are always in the spotlight. Having this in mind, testing new technical solutions in public is a bit of a risk. But you need to find the balance if you want to invest in new technical solutions to solve challenges for the greater good. It’s also important to remember that Hugo is an electric vehicle (EV) and will need to be charged regularly, so being part of the discussions around building up a national network of charging stations and the ecosystem around it will be valuable.”
Connectivity & data
Without connectivity and IoT Hugo isn’t going anywhere. IoT is also an important part of a lot of industries, not just logistics, when it comes to collecting data from different sources and combining it to get a clearer picture of things. So, if Hugo is driving back and forth, day in and day out, a lot of data could be collected and be shared for the common good.
“The smarter a city gets, the more connected it gets, the more we stand to gain from the data collected,” says Pernilla Kolni. “New logistics networks with autonomous vehicles could open up new business models for data sharing that could benefit cities in their efforts to create more sustainable spaces. This is where IoT could be really important for us and for society, but in order for it to become a reality, we need to work together with other main stakeholders such as decision-makers at various authorities and city offices.”
In the case of Hugo and PostNord, data can be beneficial for city planning, studying traffic patterns, air quality and noise levels – there are a lot of things that can be addressed in a better way if you create that ecosystem and start combining that data.
“We try to be a fast development company, so the faster the connection we have, the faster we can develop. In our world, each robot is more like a node and our developers can go into our platform and see what is happening, get error messages, login and debug and basically solve problems without going near the robot, all with IoT connectivity. And since this is a new system we’re building, we need that very good connectivity to ensure we’re building a great system.”
“When it comes to our fleet of robots, our developers can monitor things with IoT,” says Carl Berge. “We need connectivity so that we can continuously release new things and updates. We also empower our robots with good hardware so we have room to explore new things, and IoT will be an important part of making that happen.
To ensure they are delivering the future logistics needed, PostNord is doing a lot of tests, both big and small. This year they are running four tests with Hugo in Norra Djurgårdsstaden, with different businesses and people involved.
“We build our test pipeline on learnings from previous tests,” says Pernilla Kolni. “It takes time to reach a deeper understanding of a new technical solution so we’re taking things step-by-step. Our aim is to make everyday life easier and we want to achieve this in a sustainable way. Hugo is one of the things we’re testing to achieve that goal. When we feel that we have learned enough and have validated our hypotheses, we need to take a closer look at everything from possible business models to risk analysis and rollout plans. We also need to learn from cities in other countries that have come further and have already implemented similar systems. Only when we have done all this can we have a clear picture of the way forward.”
Hugo, on the other hand, has the benefit of being approached by any number of different kinds of organizations and use cases that can be deployed today, such as in industrial areas and warehouses.
“Hugo is being used by some Swedish car companies in their development,” says Carl Berge. “So, we are deploying with different customers and collecting as many use cases as possible. We’ve built a robot that works both indoors and outdoors, but our focus is on outdoor delivery and the end game is to get these out into the cities and enhance sustainability goals.”