MAN Truck & Bus

[Translate to Englisch:] Portrait Sebastian Völl

Our software approach really works

Testing an automation system during operation is no mean feat. Sebastian Völl, project manager Autonomous Driving at MAN Truck & Bus, explains how the “Hamburg Truck Pilot” team nevertheless successfully managed to achieve it.


Sebastian Völl

is a qualified mechanical engineer and has been working at MAN Truck & Bus since 2012. For the last few years he has been leading commercial vehicle manufacturer’s automation projects.

Mr Völl, what memories do have from the beginnings of the “Hamburg Truck-Pilot” project three years ago? What hurdles did MAN face in advance?

Völl “Hamburg TruckPilot” was our first step into automated driving. Both MAN Truck & Bus and the Volkswagen Group were aware of the significance of this forward-looking technology at an early stage. This project was therefore welcomed with open arms. The challenge was to very quickly catch up with the technology leaders. Jointly with Volkswagen Group Innovation we managed to succeed in this unique race. We were able to take the latest technology in automated driving and adapt it to trucks. This involved us bringing together leading specialists to form a high-calibre team of experts who successfully took “Hamburg TruckPilot” over the finish line. This team will also act as the central pillar for future developments in automated driving. A further challenge was that our work at Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA) had from the start to be conducted during real operation rather than under artificial test conditions. This meant we constantly had to adapt to the parameters on site and develop our automation system in live operation.

Do you believe that the project went as planned and desired?

Völl In principle the project went as hoped, expected and planned: we were able to display the pilot in the CTA. The coronavirus pandemic delayed the schedule a little and the associated corona requirements made the test conditions even more challenging, yet we realised our objective.

How did the people on site react to your activities?

Völl We made an impression. Firstly on the other truck drivers; they thought we’d taken the wrong lane, because we were using the automatic lane at the container storage facility, which is actually reserved for container transport between the terminal railway station and the storage facility. And other road users were also watching us curiously. Some reacted with enthusiasm, others were rather sceptical – people's expectations of automation are still very different.

“Hamburg TruckPilot” wasn’t MAN’s first automation project – not for you either. What made this project at the Port of Hamburg so special?

Völl The atmosphere in the port is unique, it was a superb environment for testing our automation technology. I have fond memories of when our prototype first manoeuvred automatically in a container storage lane. This proved to us that it works: we can meet the high accuracy requirements. And there was a real sense of relief as the first container was lifted from the chassis in successful pilot operation, I was super proud of the whole team!

The practical test runs were successful. What findings does MAN take away from Hamburg?

Völl Firstly, the realisation that our software approach works in a demarcated area like in the port. We have also identified challenges in lane limit detection and in the agility of automation control. We made a major advance regarding manoeuvring in the container storage lane, where there were very high accuracy requirements given only ten centimetres of space on each side: this worked very well and is highly reproducible.

What was the nature of your cooperation with HHLA?

Völl Our cooperation was always very good, valuable, uncomplicated and goal-oriented. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, HHLA did everything possible to enable us to continue testing and bring the project to a conclusion in ongoing operation. We received a lot of assistance, even if repositioning or other activities were required on site.

What are the next milestones on MAN’s automation roadmap?

Völl We started with platooning projects and with a technically less complex environment on the motorway. “Hamburg TruckPilot” was therefore the next logical step for us, because we were able to test our more developed automation technology on a separated area with access restrictions, where the traffic drives at low speeds. We can now build on these experiences and the next step is to test our automation technology between logistics hubs, again on the motorway and at higher speeds. The current legislation enables us to develop the system in a legally compliant manner and deploy it in hub-to-hub traffic.

Interview   MAN
Photos   MAN


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