Today, on the A52 autobahn near Düsseldorf, Daimler Trucks presented an impressive example of the possibilities opened up by the digital connection of trucks: Three WiFi-connected, autonomously driving trucks operated on the autobahn with authorisation for public traffic as a so-called platoon. Such a combination can reduce fuel consumption by up to seven percent and the road space requirement on motorways by almost half – while improving traffic safety at the same time. Based on the Daimler Trucks Highway Pilot system for autonomously driving heavy trucks, the three trucks link up to form an aerodynamically optimized, fully automated platoon. Daimler Trucks calls this advanced system development Highway Pilot Connect.
Bernhard: “We are creating a new, highly efficient and open logistical network.”
Dr Wolfgang Bernhard, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG with responsibility for Daimler Trucks & Buses, explains: “We are connecting the truck with the internet – making him the mobile data center of the logistics network. It connects all those involved in goods: drivers, schedulers, fleet operators, workshops, manufacturers and insurance companies or authorities. They receive information in real time which was previously unavailable: about the condition of the tractor unit and semitrailer, traffic and weather conditions, the parking availability at motorway service stations, rest areas and much more.”
400 sensors in today’s Daimler truck register data of all kinds
The worldwide transport of goods is a prerequisite for economic growth. However, transporting more goods in the future requires innovative solutions if we are to avoid a traffic gridlock. One central approach is to fully network the truck with the internet of things. Daimler’s smart trucks have the potential to radically change road goods transport in the coming years. Already today, Daimler Trucks generates valuable information to a previously unimaginable extent with its approximately 400 sensors per vehicle and is fully connected with software including 100 millions of lines of code – more than a passenger jet.
Dr Wolfgang Bernhard: “For efficient logistics real time data are essential – and our trucks supply these data. Therefore we are investing around half a billion euros by 2020 to connect our trucks with their environment and develop specific new applications. This will enhance our customers’ performance to operate their businesses safer and more environmentally friendly. FleetBoard and Detroit Connect will considerably help to leverage previously unharvested potential in road transport – both in the highly developed triad markets and in the emerging economies of Africa, Asia and Latin America.”
365,000 Daimler commercial vehicles already connected
The large volume of data which a truck can send and receive creates completely new possibilities for the entire logistics sector and society as a whole. Previously the different areas of the logistical network have been only inadequately connected. The information required for smooth-running procedures is often lacking, or it is not part of a network. In Europe, for example, around 25 percent of all truck mileage is still on empty journeys. With new freight clearing houses based on data from connected trucks, logistics businesses will in future be able to utilise their vehicle capacity much better, and thereby reduce empty journeys. Another example: In 2015 German road users alone suffered around 568,000 traffic jams with a total length of around 1.1 million kilometres – and the resulting increase in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. With the availability and exchange of traffic data in real time, trucks with intelligent sensors will in future be able to prevent rear-end collisions and circumvent traffic jams. At the same time the downtimes of trucks can be reduced if the truck itself reports a fault at an early stage, and the hauler can schedule a service during the already planned downtime between two transport assignments.
Autonomous truck platooning lowers fuel consumption and CO2
With the world premiere of the Highway Pilot Connect system, Daimler Trucks today gave a live presentation exemplifying the advantages of electronic vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) networking on the A52 autobahn near Düsseldorf, and also of the next milestone in autonomous driving: the technology allows electronic docking by vehicles on motorways and long-distance highways, also known as platooning. Connected vehicles in a platoon require a distance of only 15 instead of 50 metres between them. This considerably smaller distance produces a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag – comparable to slipstream riding in cycling competitions. In this way a platoon of three trucks can achieve a fuel saving of around seven percent, reducing CO2 emissions in the same measure. This makes fuel consumption figures of around 25 l/100 km possible for a loaded semitrailer combination with a gross weight of 40 t. This corresponds to a consumption of only 0.66 l/100 km per tonne, or CO2 emissions of 13.3 g per kilometre per tonne. Well below the figures for any passenger car with an internal combustion engine.
In parallel with this, platooning allows much more efficient use of the road space: thanks to the shorter distance between vehicles, a platoon of three linked trucks has a length of only 80 metres. In contrast to this, three trucks which are not electronically docked require a total of 150 metres of road space. At the same time platooning makes road traffic much safer: while a human behind the wheel has a reaction time of 1.4 seconds, Highway Pilot Connect transmits braking signals to the vehicles behind in less than 0.1 seconds. This considerably reduced reaction time can make a major contribution towards reducing rear-end collisions such as occur e.g. when encountering traffic jams on motorways.
“The smart, self-optimising truck has the highest priority for us. Using connected communication between the truck and other vehicles and the surroundings, we can improve traffic flow and lower fuel consumption and emissions. At the same time intelligent trucks help to lower the number of traffic accidents. This is an important step on our way towards accident-free driving,” says Sven Ennerst, Head of Truck Product Engineering and Global Procurement.
Highway Pilot Connect is based on the already existing Daimler Trucks system for semi-autonomous driving
The basis of Highway Pilot Connect is networking between vehicles and precise awareness of the surroundings. Highway Pilot Connect is a further development of the well-tried Highway Pilot system by Daimler Trucks. This system allows trucks to drive semi-autonomously, and has been under test since October 2015, in a standard Mercedes-Benz Actros operating on public roads in Germany. The Highway Pilot was first presented in July 2014, in the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 study, followed by the very first public road authorisation for an autonomously driving truck in May 2015, for the Freightliner Inspiration Truck.
Compared to the Highway Pilot, Highway Pilot Connect has the additional technical function for electronic vehicle docking. Communication between vehicles is made possible by an onboard telematics platform. A specific V2V communication module using a special WiFi standard reserved exclusively for automotive enables direct data transfer between the trucks. Highway Pilot Connect uses this for a constant exchange of information with other trucks and the environment.
Major advantage: automatic steering also when not connected to the platoon
The great advantage of Highway Pilot Connect is this: Because of their technology, all the members of such a platoon continue to be autonomously driving trucks. They are able to maintain their direction independently of the vehicle ahead, and thanks to their combination of linear and lateral guidance, they can react to unexpected situations at any time. This also applies if other vehicles cut into or leave the platoon’s space. In this case the vehicle can smoothly disengage from the platoon and continue alone in autonomous mode. The driver does not need to intervene. Docking three or more vehicles together becomes particularly interesting in countries with a corresponding infrastructure. In the USA or Australia, for example, trucks cover long distances without bridges and exit roads on highways crossing the entire continent
Experts expect the worldwide volume of road goods traffic to triple by 2050
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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