High-tech trucks on the highway: this is the first partnership between a logistics enterprise and a truck manufacturer to develop networked truck convoys and test their use in real operating conditions. DB Schenker and MAN have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to that effect and are initially planning to define the fundamental conditions for the project and subsequent practical trials. In 2018, they plan to operate a truck platoon on the Digital Motorway Testbed on the A9 motorway between the DB Schenker branches in Munich and Nuremberg. The second phase will involve the deployment of self-driving trucks on the DB Schenker grounds in Nuremberg.
Platooning refers to a system of vehicles for use in road traffic in which at least two trucks drive on the motorway with only a short distance between them with the help of technical driver assistance and control systems. All the vehicles in the platoon are linked up to each other by means of electronic ‘drawbars’ in the form of car-to-car communication. The leading vehicle determines the speed and direction.
The distance between the individual trucks is around ten metres, equivalent to roughly half a second’s driving time. The electronic links between the individual vehicles in the platoon guarantee the safety of operations. The primary objective of this procedure is to enable slipstreaming and thus achieve fuel savings of up to 10% for the entire platoon. The reduction in fuel consumption also reduces carbon emissions.
“Our target is to become the driver of digital business models in the transport and logistics industry and to be the provider of choice for customers seeking both digital and non-digital services,” said Jochen Thewes, Chairman of the Management Board of DB Schenker. “We therefore welcome this opportunity to cooperate with MAN and test platooning at an early stage in day-to-day operations between land transport terminals. DB Schenker and MAN expect this partnership to generate new findings for optimising logistics processes.”
Ewald Kaiser, Member of the Management Board for Land Transport at DB Schenker, added: “The project focuses on customer demand for completely transparent as well as faster and more eco-friendly processes. On the whole, we expect this to deliver a significant increase in efficiency by linking up new solutions with the logistics processes of our customers. We believe that networked and automated driving has enormous potential.”
Joachim Drees, Chairman of the Executive Boards of MAN SE and MAN Truck & Bus, emphasised the advantages of truck platoons from the point of view of the vehicle manufacturer: “Platooning is a real benefit to transport safety. Human error is unfortunately one of the most frequent causes of rear-end collisions. Linking trucks together electronically provides us with a promising approach to this problem. Slipstreaming brings a major reduction in fuel consumption in the process. At the same time platooning will enable us to make much more efficient use of the transport infrastructure.” He also underlined, however, that important pre-conditions for making platooning a standard procedure have yet to be created. “Whether the concept can be realised on a wide scale will depend to a large extent on the legal framework. MAN will offer such a system once the legal setting for it has been created.”
In the view of Joachim Drees the partnership with DB Schenker provides an ideal framework for testing platooning in day-to-day transport operations and for developing it further. “We want in particular to familiarise ourselves with the many and varied demands that practice imposes on the system and, together with our customer, develop solutions that will allow platooning to be used to the optimum.”
In the first phase of the project, DB Schenker and MAN Truck & Bus will clarify the fundamental issues for trial operations, identify suitable scenarios for testing platooning operations and define the technical and logistical requirements for the compilation of platoons. Another project area will deal with the collection and provision of the necessary information and the use of that information by the truck manufacturer and logistics specialist.
The partners will also look at the scope for combining platooning with other digital services as well as questions of costs and savings potential.
The project will additionally investigate the requirements that platooning drivers have to satisfy as well as the general impact of this new technology on the truck as a workplace, now and in future. “Many of these things are still a long way off into the future, but we wish to test and help to shape this future, and to provide inspiration and incentive,” said Jochen Thewes. “We want to integrate networked, self-driving trucks into our logistics processes and find out what benefits – apart from the savings in fuel consumption – can be achieved for our customers and operational processes.”