MAN Truck & Bus

An autonomously driving MAN truck stands in the port of HamburgAn autonomously driving truck moves around the container terminal at the Port of Hamburg.

This autonomous truck has passed the test


The "Hamburg Truckpilot" team is celebrating: MAN´s two autonomous trucks mastered all the practical test runs at the Container Terminal Altenweder without any problems. The trucks toured independently from the Check-in-Gate to the container handling area. Insights into an exciting trial at the Port of Hamburg.

A MAN truck stands in the container terminal's check gate.
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From here on it gets serious The autonomous truck drives itself to the block storage facility from the CTA check gate.

It’s an unusual scenario at the Port of Hamburg: Detlev Gosler, a driver from freight forwarder Jakob Weets e.K., switched from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat at the check-in gate to Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA), rather than driving the vehicle to the container storage lane with the container loaded, as he would usually do. This involves a safety driver replacing Gosler on the driver's side – he won’t be operating the accelerator, brake or steering, but has to be there for legal reasons to intervene if the autonomous test drive with the prototype doesn’t run smoothly at one point or another. This guarantees the continuous safety of all participants during ongoing terminal operations.

Yet it is not only unusual, there is also an exhilarating pioneering spirit combined with great joy within the entire “Hamburg TruckPilot” team that is watching proceedings with great anticipation: the truck accelerates on its own. At around 25 kilometres per hour, it moves autonomously from the check-in gate toward the container storage lane, where the containers are waiting for collection by ship, train or truck. The safety driver carefully observes the events, he is ready to intervene at any time.

This is the decisive step in the “Hamburg TruckPilot” project. MAN and Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) are jointly testing the deployment of autonomous trucks at Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA) and their integration into highly automated handling processes. The project was launched three years ago. After the preparation phase and technical system development at MAN's test site in Munich, the technical implementation has been taking place on site by the Elbe since autumn 2020. Practical testing then followed at the end of May 2021, when a prototype truck transported 40-foot containers on behalf of VW Group Logistics for two days in real-life situations under an existing logistics relationship with freight forwarder Jakob Weets.


Now comes the highlight of “Hamburg TruckPilot”, which the entire team has been looking forward to: the developer team of MAN and VW has been testing for months, led by Sebastian Völl, project manager for automated driving at MAN Truck & Bus. “Hamburg TruckPilot is an important technological milestone on the road to developing autonomous driving systems at MAN. The know-how we have built up here brings us closer to our objective for autonomous trucks to be regularly used in future not only on the sites of logistics hubs, but also in regular traffic between these logistics hubs”, Völl reports on the success and thus addresses another aspect that is taking place during these practical tests in Hamburg.

Because on the shuttle journeys on the A7 between Logistic Centre Soltau, about 70 kilometres south of Hamburg, and the port area, which are regularly performed by a driver, these practical test trips are already providing the project participants with data for autonomous driving on the highway. The legal conditions for this are on the right track in Germany. It was only at the end of May that the Bundestag and the Federal Council adopted the law on autonomous driving, which basically permits the use of such vehicle systems in defined areas of operation, such as on routes between logistics hubs.

Positioning yourself early in the starting blocks, where the objective is gradually becoming more and more tangible – that is exactly the reason that Till Schlumberger, project manager at HHLA, sees as the decisive motivation for HHLA participating in “Hamburg TruckPilot”: “Autonomous driving is on its way. This is confirmed by the recently passed law on autonomous driving. We at HHLA want to and must prepare ourselves at an early stage for autonomous trucks to be picking up or delivering containers at our terminals.”

An autonomous truck loaded with a pink container drives through the container terminal of the Port of Hamburg.
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Better safe than sorry A safety driver accompanied all the practical test runs on the terminal site, while Jakob Weets driver Detlev Gosler rode along in the passenger seat.

We are pleased to be part of this innovative research project and thus to support the development of future automation solutions.

Jakob Weets
Manging Director Spedition Jakob Weets

The involvement of freight forwarder Jakob Weets from Emden is decisive for the realistic nature of the practical tests: this logistics partner not only provides the drivers, but also takes care of the complete container transport and integrates the test vehicles into their regular transport process. “We are pleased to be part of this innovative research project and thus to support the development of future automation solutions”, said Managing Director Jakob Weets regarding the potential that automated driving functions will be able to offer in addition to the safety gains, especially in terms of relieving truck drivers.

Project completion at the ITS World Congress

Gosler’s truck has long since found the right position in the container storage lane along the 1,400-meter-long Ballinkai quay. It reverses autonomously to manoeuvre into its parking position. Gosler is impressed: “It’s crazy how it’s all done so precisely and swiftly. An untrained driver couldn’t align so well in reverse, even a practised driver would need a very good attempt. This aspect of the automation system would make my everyday life so much easier.” He climbs out, opens the twist lock and confirms the opening on a card reader, after which the container is automatically unloaded. The container is unloaded after a few seconds and Gosler resumes his seat in the passenger positionwhile the vehicle moves off again to return to the check-in gate.

The safety driver didn’t even have to intervene once. The truck finally comes to a stop at the check-in gate and Gosler can resume command in the driver's seat. He starts the engine and drives back to the Soltau Logistic Centre in Soltau to pick up the next container. The next time he arrives at the CTA, Völl and his colleagues will again closely monitor the switch to automated deployment at the terminal site. Still with the critical eye of the developers – but also with pride!

“Hamburg TruckPilot”, a project that is part of the strategic mobility partnership between the Hanseatic City and the Volkswagen Group, can be regarded as a complete success. The project partners will be presenting their detailed results to the public during the ITS World Congress in October 2021.

Text   MAN
Photos   Thies Raetzke


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