(Pocket-lint) - Swedish trucking firm Einride believes the future of haulage is electric and autonomous. But, while algorithms and artificial intelligence will be capable of navigating mazes of roads across the globe, there are still a few moments when you'll need human intervention.
That doesn't mean a human needs to be in the cab though, oh no.
Einride's autonomous electric truck, the T-pod, shows that there are other ways to "man" a driverless truck when needed.
That's because, unlike regular looking trucks, the 11-tonne T-pod doesn't feature a cab for a driver at all, saving maximum space for the cargo and battery to allow it to drive up to 124 miles on a single charge.
It's an all-electric, self-driving solution that the company claims could potentially replace more than 60 per cent of today’s transport with a cost competitive and sustainable alternative.
And that's not even the clever part; when the truck encounters a difficult situation or needs a human driver to intervene, the company can simply dial in from the office using a 5G connection.
That's exactly what we did during Mobile World Congress. We took control of a T-pod located at AstaZero, a test site outside Gothenburg, Sweden while we sat on the Ericsson booth in Barcelona some 1,517 miles away.
The control rig, which for the purpose of the demo looked more like a video game, saw us sat in a chair with a gaming steering wheel and pedals. We then got to remotely drive the T-pod around an actual real-life course.
The whole situation is possible thanks 5G and, in this instance, the low latency achievable via the new phone network tech. It wouldn't be possible otherwise, something Einride and Ericsson were keen to point out.
They also explained to us that remote access is not just about steering out the way of danger or, in our case, through some roadworks. It is also used to monitor the vehicle and restrict its performance in certain situations. The truck is constantly in communication.
For us, that meant limiting our speed when we were driving past some roadworks on the test track, thereby keeping workmen safe. We even used the connection to turn on lights on a high-vis jacket on our approach.
The experience was effortless as we steered our way around the predetermined circular course. It was a little stressful because there were humans on site to guide us the right way around the track, but when we did try to veer off course, we were told off. So we didn't do that again.
The final product might all sound like pie-in the sky stuff, but Einride already has its first customer.
German trucking company DB Schenker is running the first commercial use of a T-pod, at a DB Schenker facility in Jönköping, central Sweden. The T-pod travels continuously around six miles a day to and from a warehouse, paving the way for a sustainable transition of road freight transportation.
Einride is yet to confirm when we are going to see the T-pod or the logging variant, L-pod, on the roads in any sizeable numbers. For starters, there is the need for 5G to roll out in the countries that customers want to operate in. But, it's clear from our limited demo that the technology works and is ready.
You might not see a T-pod on UK roads this year but, we suspect, it'll only be 5-10 years before they could be regularly spotted.