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What!? World’s First Road for Autonomous Driving Trucks in the Desert?

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Robotruck startup CORAGE has announced that it would participate in the construction of the world’s first autonomous logistics road from Jiuquan to Mingshui in northwest China’s Gansu Province.

While some countries hesitate to implement infrastructure changes for new forms of mobility, China decided to go much further with a plan to build a 430-kilometer logistics road for autonomous trucks. It is the first autonomous driving truck logistics road in China.  Construction of the road is planned to begin in 2023 and should be completed in 2025. Then it will be put into commercial operation with the first batch of 600 fully driverless hydrogen energy heavy trucks.

Since the road is located in a flat no-man's land, the region is rich in solar and wind energy, which can produce green hydrogen at a low cost. Moreover, the number of commercial vehicles in the country is 10.9% of the total number of vehicles in the country, but the carbon emissions account for nearly 65% of all vehicle carbon emissions. So, the location of the road and the easier access to green hydrogen might accelerate the landing of autonomous driving technology as well as reduce carbon emissions.

The plan is that self-driving heavy trucks are fully driverless when driving on main roads and will not be equipped with human drivers. People will only help with refuelling and unloading goods. Refuelling a heavy truck once a day, which takes 10 to 15 minutes, is enough to support the truck for long-distance travel. 

After the road is put into operation, it will further promote the development of autonomous driving and new energy commercial vehicles. For example, a startup, Karui Zhixing has designed and developed a corresponding low-cost heave-duty truck autonomous driving solution. Moreover, the startup has established in-depth cooperation with domestic leading new energy heavy truck manufactures and will launch a field road test in the Jiuquan area to prepare for future commercial operations.

Personal Comment:

Construction of the world’s first autonomous logistics road gives startups and companies the possibility to test their autonomous driving vehicles. However, not all countries provide such testing areas. So, why are some places are deploying self-driving testing areas and self-driving technology faster than others?

Some emerging test areas for self-driving are picking up on acute social needs. For example, China has major problems with congestion and emissions. Therefore, China believes there are huge opportunities for improving quality of life. Others are eager to welcome self-driving due to competitive economic pressures. In the case of Germany, it has benefited significantly from having sophisticated manufacturing practices. Germany doesn’t want to lose its edge. Some U.S. states envision autonomous vehicles as a potential strategy for filling gaps in transportation accessibility. Meanwhile some cities and countries are placing limits or outright bans on autonomous vehicles. These cases appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach.

Finally, I would like to note that whereas other countries and states such as Texas initiate different strategies to be able to test self-driving trucks directly on public freeways, China decided on a different approach: building a dedicated road in the desert. Though the 430-kilometers proposed is a small proportion of the 3,231 kilometres between Jiuquan to Mingshui it appears only a small proportion will be dedicated to self-driving trucks and cargo transportation with the rest presumably remaining manual. We’ll have to wait until 2025 to see how it is implemented in reality!

Written by Kateryna Melnyk,
RISE Mobility & Systems