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SafeAI, Siemens and Obayashi collaborate to develop retrofitted autonomous, zero emission, off-road heavy vehicles

SafeAI, a developer of autonomous heavy equipment, is collaborating with Siemens to create an autonomous, zero emission heavy vehicle fleet for Obayashi Corporation.

SafeAI and Siemens will work with Obayashi Corporation, a Japan-based global leader in construction, to create smarter, safer, more sustainable and productive construction sites.

SafeAI and Obayashi originally announced their partnership in October 2020, beginning with a pilot site in Cupertino, California, USA.

Together, the two companies set out to address common pain points across construction – including unsafe working conditions, labor shortages and rampant inefficiencies – with autonomous solutions.

Since then, they have successfully tested and deployed an articulated autonomous dump truck to complete over 580 load-haul-dump cycles.

SafeAI and Siemens signed an agreement in May 2021 to jointly work on retrofitting off-road heavy vehicles for autonomy, zero emission and connected applications, due to the increasing convergence of these three megatrends in vehicles.

SafeAI brings its powerful, scalable AI-powered retrofit autonomy to the collaboration, while Siemens provides its industry-leading hardware and software capabilities in zero emission powertrains, and the necessary infrastructure to operate these vehicles.

Earlier this year, a fleet of 300 construction trucks – ranging from 45 to 65 tons and operated by Obayashi Corporation – was identified to be retrofitted for autonomy and zero emission.

In May 2022, the companies began retrofitting the first 45 ton vehicle, which is expected to be ready by the end of 2022. The collaboration will continue scaling across the entire fleet over a three year period.

Bibhrajit Halder, founder and CEO of SafeAI, says: “At SafeAI, we’ve always been committed to making heavy industry safer and more productive. Now, in partnership with Siemens, we can add ‘more sustainable’ to that list.

“Siemens has already built a track record of advancing on-road electrification. Now, together, we can deliver these capabilities, at scale, to off-road industries.

“With this partnership, our present and future customers can experience the powerful, synergistic benefits of autonomy and electrification.”

Unlike passenger cars, full electrification of heavy vehicles is still at a nascent stage. However, with improving maturity of technology, total cost of ownership, government incentives and regulations, there will be over four million zero emission heavy vehicles deployed by 2030.

Beyond the zero emission benefit, electric vehicles also offer improved performance, negligible maintenance costs and longer uptime and life, improving productivity and reliability while lowering costs.

For this project, it is estimated that the total cost of ownership for the retrofitted electric vehicle will be 15-30 percent less than that of the original internal combustion engine vehicle.

Zubin Sarkar, head of strategy, business development and marketing at Siemens Commercial Vehicles, says: “Heavy vehicle retrofit for autonomy and zero emission is an innovative yet cost-effective solution that will fast track adoption of sustainable technologies for heavy vehicles.

“Not to forget, retrofit is a form of reuse or recycle and hence in line with circular economy principles to better meet net zero goals.

“Combined with creative financing models and rigorous focus on safety, there could be as many retrofitted zero emission heavy vehicles as newly built zero emission heavy vehicles by 2030.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity ahead for companies across industries like construction, mining, harbor and agriculture to reduce their carbon footprint, all while improving operations and lowering costs.

“In partnership with pioneers like SafeAI and Obayashi Corporation, we can imagine a more sustainable future for these industries.”

The project also incorporates unique cutting-edge features from Siemens such as an autonomous-pantograph to enable automatic charging and an autonomy analytics suite to ensure a wide array of reliable and safe applications.

Simulytic, a new Siemens AG venture, has been established to help accelerate the deployment of autonomous vehicles by offering a trustworthy platform accessible to regulators, government, insurance, tech developers and operators alike.

Andy Gill, chief operating officer at Simulytics, says: “By creating a digital replica of the autonomous vehicle in its deployment environment, we can use our simulation technology to provide independent safety and performance analytics for both SafeAI and Obayashi.”

The retrofit project will be engineered by a system integrator known for its expertise in electrification and mechatronics of trucks, AVIA Engineering.

David Sánchez, owner and CEO at AVIA Engineering, says: “We are thrilled to further deepen our long-time collaboration with Siemens in the field of vehicle electrification with such an innovative project.

“To integrate a fully electric powertrain and improve vehicle attributes in such a demanding application is a task at the cutting edge of technology, and a technical challenge that we are delighted to take on behalf of our partners.”

Hiroto Sato, COO at Obayashi SVVL (Silicon Valley Ventures & Laboratory), says: “We firmly believe the future of the construction industry is both autonomous and electric—and we’re determined to establish that future ourselves.

“We’ve already started to see the powerful impact autonomous technology can have through our work with SafeAI over the last year.

“Now, with SafeAI’s partnership with Siemens, we will pioneer more sustainable operations to continue leading the way toward a smarter future for our industry.”

This partnership follows on the heels of a year of significant growth for SafeAI, including expansion into Australia, Canada, Japan and India, the release of its industry-first operating system, the SafeAI Autonomous Framework (SAF) and a game changing partnership announcement with MACA and Position Partners to deploy 100 autonomous vehicles.

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