Mobility 4.0: Self-driving vehicles, truck convoys on motorways with drivers not having to touch the steering wheel, fully automated container handling – all pure dreams of the future? By no means! Automated driving offers a lot of potential in terms of efficiency and safety, especially in the transport industry. Even today, as MAN has already proven in numerous pilot projects. But the way to the fully autonomous vehicle is also paved with challenges to be mastered. An overview.
What advantages does the autonomous vehicle offer and what technology is generally used? The most important questions and answers on a complex topic.
The targeted and automated operation of a vehicle in real traffic, achieved by combining different systems that partially or fully take over steering, acceleration and braking, using on-board sensors and data to capture the vehicle’s environment.
The intercommunication between vehicles (car-to-car) and with the infrastructure, such as traffic lights or traffic guidance systems (car-to-infrastructure).
Increased road safety: Car-to-X communication warns drivers of hazards in good time; automated driving also means that a vehicle can brake or change lanes on its own. In addition to safety, automation can contribute to greater efficiency and resource conservation.
To classify the degree of automation, six levels from 0 to 5 have been defined on a national and international basis. The classification describes the system tasks as well as the driver requirements from merely assisted driving to fully autonomous driving without the need of a human driver to operate the vehicle.
Assisted and partially automated driving (levels 1 and 2) are in line with German road traffic regulations and international standards that require a driver to be able to control or drive the vehicle. This is not the case with highly automated driving (level 3), where drivers can turn their attention to things other than driving while on the road. However, legislative changes on a national and international basis in 2016 and 2017 significantly extended the scope for automated driving. Whether the new regulation only creates legal certainty for stage 3 or also for stage 4 (highly automated driving) is currently under discussion. However, one thing is certain: Autonomous driving (level 5) is not yet covered.
The German Government is paving the way for modern, clean, accessible and affordable mobility – and is relying on digital innovations, automated and connected driving technologies and the use of artificial intelligence methodology. The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) is therefore funding research and innovation in these fields.
Together with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi), the BMVI concluded the Research Programme on Automation and Connectivity in Road Transport in around July 2019. The ministries defined three guiding principles:
MAN Truck & Bus is promoting transport automation step by step – not via theoretical concept papers, but in practical projects in real operating conditions. And always based on specific customer applications that contribute true added value. An overview of already completed and ongoing automation projects made by MAN:
Together with seven partners from industry, research and administration and as part of the aFAS research project (“automatisch fahrerlos fahrendes Absicherungsfahrzeug für Arbeitsstellen auf Bundesautobahnen”), MAN has developed and tested the prototype of an automatic driverless safety vehicle for construction sites on German motorways. This involved a driverless and fully automated MAN TGM 18.340 equipped with cameras, radars, various assistance systems, some specially developed ambient sensors and built-in object and lane marking detectors. The truck follows the mobile construction sites on the hard shoulder of motorways in Hesse, Germany, at a defined distance.
The EDDI project (“Elektronische Deichsel – Digitale Innovation” [electronic tow bar – digital innovation]) offered a world premiere: For five months, professional truck drivers drove dummy weights at first, then real goods on two MAN TGX articulated trains at a maximum speed of 80 kilometres per hour between DB Schenker terminals in Munich and Nuremberg on the almost 145-kilometre-long digital test section of the A9. The rear vehicle was following the acceleration, braking and steering of the lead vehicle – synchronously, without active input from the driver and at a distance of around 15 metres. This involved using a special WLAN connection for car-to-car communication as well as multiple redundant sensors and various assistance systems. The platoon was terminated in particular situations, such as at motorway intersections.
Since the end of 2018, MAN Truck & Bus and Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) have been promoting the “Hamburg TruckPilot” research and testing project to develop automation solutions. Two prototype trucks have been equipped with electronic automation systems to move automatically from the check-in gate to the block storage lane within the Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA) at the Port of Hamburg.
The ANITA project (“Autonome Innovation im Terminalablauf” [autonomous innovation in terminal procedures]) aims to achieve more efficient container handling from road to rail and vice versa. It involves MAN collaborating with Deutsche Bahn, Fresenius University of Applied Sciences and Götting AG to test the deployment of a fully automated truck at the DUSS terminal in Dornstadt near Ulm: With a trained safety driver on board, the highly automated MAN truck will move around DB Intermodal Services container depot and the terminal in Dornstadt. An experienced crane driver will be responsible for handling the containers. ANITA is setting new standards for digitisation in combined transport. Currently, the digital infrastructure is being installed on site.
Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology ensures that different vehicles can intercommunicate and thus drive in a platoon, for example. Until now, this only worked between vehicles of the same brand. As part of the EU-funded Ensemble project, the seven European truck manufacturers, together with various suppliers and partners, have developed a cross-manufacturer V2V communication protocol. The first platoon made up of vehicles from different brands drove around Barcelona in September 2021. In the medium term, an EU standard is to be created on this basis. Hauliers who have vehicles of different brands in their fleet would then be able to combine them in a platoon, for example.
Assisted, partially automated, conditionally automated, highly automated, fully automated: These are the five steps on the way to the autonomous vehicle. And that is what they mean.
There are no automated driving functions; the driver performs all driving functions himself, i.e. the longitudinal control of the vehicle (maintaining speed, accelerating and braking) and the lateral control (steering). There are no systems that intervene, only supporting systems.
Most modern vehicles, including MAN products, already offer a wide range of systems that actively support the driver, for example in keeping the lane or maintaining distance and speed. However, the driver retains full and active responsibility for the driving task at all times.
Various Level 1 systems such as lane guard and adaptive cruise control are combined to create partially automated driving functions. Under defined conditions, the vehicle keeps its lane, brakes and accelerates automatically. An example of this is the traffic jam assist of the new MAN Truck generation, which moves the vehicle in congested situations on motorways independently up to a speed of 60 km/h in relation to the vehicle in front – according to the given traffic conditions. However, the driver still retains full responsibility for the driving task and for road safety. He must continuously monitor the vehicle systems and intervene at any time should the situation require it.
Drivers no longer have to continuously monitor the longitudinal and lateral control of the vehicle. However, they must be able to resume the driving task when the system signals them to do so. The system independently recognises its limits, that is the point at which its functions can no longer cope with the environmental conditions. In this case, the vehicle requests the driver to resume the task of driving.
On predefined road sections such as a motorway or closed terrain, the vehicle drives completely autonomously. There is no need for the driver to continuously monitor the system and he can assume other tasks while driving or even leave the vehicle – for example, when handling containers on a terminal site. On appropriately closed and secured terrain, the legal framework conditions already offer the possibility of driving without the need of a driver. From level 4 and higher, however, there must be an “off-board” control level that monitors and controls deployment and driving task of the level 4 vehicle.
The vehicle is fully capable of performing the driving task completely independently on all road types, in all speed ranges and under all environmental conditions. Except for setting the destination and starting the system, human intervention is no longer necessary. In contrast to Level 4, Level 5 requires further comprehensive technical development of the systems and in addition extensive legal frameworks and supporting systems for the transport infrastructure.
Already prepared for tomorrow: MAN is advancing automation – not just for the sake of it, but rather in projects that have a specific customer requirement as their starting point.
So MAN is already equipped for the mobility of the future. We will be able to offer exactly the services that the market demands once the technology has reached readiness for series production. A manufacturer’s involvement in innovative projects such as this also demonstrates that he is meeting his responsibility to assure the safety of the entire system.
MAN is focusing on three major steps:
MAN will only test the hub-to-hub applications on the roads when the safety of the technology has been reliably proven in the first two steps and once the regulatory approval procedures have been clarified. As to the final step towards autonomous driving becoming a reality, there is still a need for a legal framework and for clarification of legal requirements.
The digital future of logistics is coming into view. Terminal 4.0 is already a reality, and in the near future driverless commercial vehicles will open up the path to Logistics 4.0. The hub-to-hub transport, as it is called, enables the autonomous transport of goods on federal motorways and national roads, between important logistics hubs. More information in the video on the MAN vision.