Technology

Self-drive delivery van can be 'built in four hours'

Self-drive electric trucks Image copyright Charge
Image caption The trucks produces zero emissions for the first 100 miles, the company claims

A self-drive electric delivery van, that could be on UK streets next year, has been unveiled at the Wired 2016 conference in London.

The vehicle's stripped-back design and lightweight materials mean it can be assembled by one person in four hours, the firm behind it claims.

The vehicles will be "autonomous-ready", for when self-drive legislation is in place, the firm said.

The government wants to see self-drive cars on the roads by 2020.

"We find trucks today totally unacceptable. Loud, polluting and unfriendly," said Denis Sverdlov, chief executive of Charge, the automotive technology firm behind the truck.

"We are making trucks the way they should be - affordable, elegant, quiet, clean and safe."

He added: "We are removing all the barriers to entry for electric vehicles by pricing them in line with conventional trucks, giving every fleet manager, tradesperson or company, no matter how big or small, the opportunity to change the way they transport goods and make our towns and cities better places to live in."

Charge plans to develop trucks in a range of sizes from 3.5 to 26 tonnes and is in talks with the major truck fleet firms.

DHL has previously said of the firm: "We see huge potential in the contribution they can make to advancing technology for commercial usages and the way we envisage the future of logistics."

The vehicles will be built using ultra-lightweight composite materials that significantly reduce the weight of the vehicle, it said.

Image copyright Charge
Image caption The van will be made by a small team at a factory in Oxfordshire

The self-drive software has been developed in-house and is ready to be uploaded to the trucks "at the touch of a button" whenever the government allows autonomous vehicles on UK roads, the firm said.

The UK government is keen to lead the way on the development of driverless car technology and is currently consulting on changes to insurance rules and motoring regulations, with a view to allow self-drive cars on the roads by 2020.

Charge plans to open a factory in Oxfordshire next year with a team of 10 working over two shifts a day to assemble 10,000 trucks in the first year.

The firm is an official partner of Formula E - the electric car racing competition - with its trucks being used for the drive parade and for logistics on and off the track.

Mr Sverdlov also heads Roborace which creates AI-powered racing cars.

Most of the big car manufacturers are making big strides in developing electric vehicles - Volkswagen, for example, is planning to launch 30 all-electric models to reposition itself as a leader in green transport following the so-called "dieselgate" scandal.

Driverless cars are also becoming a reality. The UK's Transport Systems Catapult test-drove an autonomous vehicle on a public street in Milton Keynes this summer, with further trials planned for London soon.

In October, electric carmaker Tesla announced that all the cars it now builds will have the hardware installed to drive on their own.

Swedish carmaker Volvo plans to run driverless-car trials on public roads around London from 2017.

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