20 Oct 2021
MAN is continuing to advance freight transport based on self-driving trucks. The roadmap for series production envisages the introduction of autonomous zero-emission trucks by the end of the decade. MAN intends to cooperate with logistics companies to test automated hub-to-hub traffic and associated digital services, and make them available on the market by 2030.
The focus at MAN has increasingly been on autonomous driving since the practical Hamburg TruckPilot field testing that was successfully completed with Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) in June 2021. “Pilot projects like Hamburg TruckPilot prove that it’s technologically feasible to deploy self-driving trucks and that they can be efficiently integrated into logistical processes. We’re working closely with customers and partners to come up with practical automation solutions. Our objective is to bring self-driving trucks into series production from 2030”, announces Dr Frederik Zohm, Executive Board Member for Research and Development at MAN. Clear future prospects are envisaged at MAN: “Autonomous driving will be a game changer in transport”, Zohm states.
Germany has created the ideal backdrop for MAN to test driverless trucks under real operating conditions. In July 2021, the Federal Republic of Germany became the first country ever to enact a law on autonomous driving. This fundamentally regulates and permits the deployment of autonomous vehicles (Level 4) in defined operating areas, such as in traffic between logistics terminals. The journeys must be monitored by a technical supervisor.
Autonomous trucks bring a wide range of advantages for freight transport. They have the potential to make transport operations more efficient, cost-effective, reliable, sustainable and – above all – safer. Self-driving trucks represent a significant component within Container Logistics 4.0 and Industry 4.0. They also provide an approach to resolve the driver shortage, which is increasingly becoming an issue for many transport companies. Automation technologies additionally contribute to the relief of truck drivers in their strenuous daily work routines.
MAN is successively planning further cooperation projects to expedite automation and make autonomous hub-to-hub traffic a reality. Application testing of self-driving MAN trucks that are integrated into customer’s corporate operating procedures will be possible from the middle of this decade. The objective is to offer autonomously driving trucks as a series solution from 2030. Alongside emission-free drives, these vehicles not only increase the safety and efficiency of logistics, but also make a significant contribution to reducing the carbon footprint left by freight transport.
The pilot projects with different partners since 2016 have enabled MAN to demonstrate that autonomous transport is no longer a pie in the sky. MAN and Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) successfully completed the “Hamburg TruckPilot” research and testing project in June 2021. The objectives set for this three-year project were to develop an automated truck capable of container handling and submit it to practical field testing at Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA).
The objectives set for this three-year project – which was also part of the strategic mobility partnership between the City of Hamburg and Volkswagen AG – included developing and field testing an automated truck capable of container handling at Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA). The trial operations initially involved a logistics partner, Spedition Jakob Weets e.K. from Emden, that conventionally transported 40-foot containers to the CTA terminal in the Port of Hamburg with a human driver. The truck then drove autonomously across the terminal site and smoothly negotiated mixed traffic involving other road users. It drove to its destination in the container storage lane and then manoeuvred itself backwards with high precision into the correct parking position. Once the container had been unloaded, it again drove autonomously back to the check-in gate, where the driver from Spedition Jakob Weets e.K. retook full control beyond the terminal site.
Till Schlumberger, who was the HHLA project manager responsible for Hamburg TruckPilot, clarifies the true nature of the pioneering technological achievement behind this successful test run: “HHLA’s highly automated processes make Container Terminal Altenwerder the ideal test environment for testing promising future technologies. Our facilities are in operation 24/7, 360 days a year. However, safely integrating autonomous trucks into our terminal processes is a major challenge, because it involves blending both autonomous and regular traffic. Hamburg TruckPilot has enabled us to demonstrate that such implementation is possible in practice and that it’s very promising.”
In preparation for future test runs in automated hub-to-hub traffic and for forthcoming projects involving automated trucks, the project participants have already been collating lots of data during field test journeys on the A7 feeder routes between the Weets container terminal at Soltau and the port facilities 70 kilometres away. Introduction of the law on autonomous driving in Germany has now made it possible to also conduct these field test journeys beyond enclosed areas. Sebastian Völl, project manager for automated driving at MAN Truck & Bus, is very pleased with the results of the practical field testing at the Port of Hamburg, where the autonomous truck used cameras and sensors to safely negotiate its route through the container terminal: “Hamburg TruckPilot was our first step into autonomous driving. The first time the prototype managed to manoeuvre independently within a container storage lane proved to us that it works: We can meet the high accuracy requirements. The interplay among sensor technology, environment detection and automation systems was perfectly capable of mastering the journey across the terminal site with all the other manually controlled trucks. I was massively proud of the entire team as the first container with a real load was lifted from the chassis! We can now build on these experiences for future projects.”
Deutsche Bahn, MAN Truck & Bus, Fresenius University of Applied Sciences and Götting KG are currently collaborating on the ANITA project in Ulm Dornstadt, which is also dealing with automated and digital solutions to hub-to-hub traffic. The intention is that fully automated trucks will in future operate at the DB Intermodal Services container depot and at the DUSS terminal (Deutsche Umschlaggesellschaft Schiene-Straße mbH). This means that combined transport can be organised in a more efficient and flexible manner. It creates incentives for even more climate-friendly transport by rail.
The first phase of ANITA (Autonome Innovation im Terminalablauf [Autonomous Innovation in Terminal Procedures]) involves the Institute for Complex System Research at Fresenius University of Applied Sciences completing extensive analyses to create a digital platform for autonomous hub-to-hub traffic at DUSS and DB IS Ulm. This platform is to enable the driverless truck and the terminal environment to “communicate” with one another. The digital system control shall be designed based on pioneering scientific research in such a way that it can also be used as model for other sites at which autonomous trucks are to be used for transportation – such as in container terminals, at ports or at industrial facilities. ANITA is therefore creating the technological conditions for driverless trucks to be seamlessly integrated into the logistical processes behind Industry 4.0 and Logistics 4.0.
Project partners DB Schenker, MAN Truck & Bus and Fresenius University of Applied Sciences already presented the results of their successful “EDDI” platooning field trial back in May 2019. This seven-month research project involved professional drivers travelling in two digitally coupled vehicles on the A9 motorway between branches of the logistics company DB Schenker in Nuremberg and Munich. After around 35,000 test kilometres, it was proven: Journeys using digitally networked trucks on German motorways are safe, function in a technically reliable manner and can easily be integrated into a logistics company’s daily routines. This practical field testing also substantiated savings in fuel consumption. This was the world’s first ever test involving the use of truck platoons in real logistical operation.
Text: Felix Enzian
Photos: Lara Dorow Cristobal