MAN Truck & Bus

Abstraktes Bild von verzerrten Lichtquellen.

The long road to autonomous commercial vehicles

15/06/2020

Saving potential of up to 50 percent: automated trucks and buses will also revolutionise the efficiency of mobility and logistics. This will create new sales opportunities for manufacturers bringing commercial vehicle automation technologies to the market. But there are still high hurdles.

 Platooning: The driver can also intervene at any time in the platoon truck.
Arrow right

Volle Kontrolle Auch im Platoon-Lkw kann der Fahrer jederzeit eingreifen.

Mobility in transition

Commercial vehicle technology is rapidly developing. New drive technologies, digital solutions and intelligent networking mean that new vehicle concepts, new forms of use and even new business models are emerging within the commercial vehicle sector. What lies behind catchphrases like "technological transformation", "alternative drives", "digitisation" or "automated driving"? And what effect will this transformation have on the commercial vehicle industry in the coming years? MAN sheds light on the questions of future energy sources and drive concepts.

The days when drivers themselves had to operate all a vehicle's functions – or were able to – are long gone. Certainly since introduction of the electronic braking system EBS and electronically supported gear shifting in the mid-1990s, electronic assistance systems have made a considerable contribution to greater comfort, but especially to greater safety in buses and trucks. Current generations of commercial vehicles usually include electronic assistants such as lane assist, emergency brake assist, adaptive cruise control or turn-off assist. Indeed some of these assistance systems, such as emergency brake assist, are even required by law.

Cameras and sensors pave the way for automation

The safety equipment and assistance systems now available in modern trucks and buses are far removed from classic vehicle construction. Software and electronics have become increasingly important. Beneath the sheet metal, behind the windscreen, on wheels, brakes, steering wheel, engine and transmission, numerous sensors measure what is happening in and around the vehicle. This data flows continuously during the journey to powerful computers. Here programs and algorithms make decisions within fractions of a second and send commands to the brakes, steering, engine and transmission control.

For instance a computer uses the images continuously transmitted by a video camera on the windscreen to calculate whether the vehicle is remaining in its lane or whether there are traffic signs indicating a speed limit. A computer even uses data sent by a radar unit at the front of the vehicle to monitor distance to the vehicle in front and applies the brakes if this distance becomes insufficient. Data on inclines and descents from the navigation system also assists modern vehicle generations to attain the right balance between acceleration and cruising, which equates to the most economical driving style.

Many fleet operators have long since recognised the benefits of electronic systems and are increasingly using them. Because assistance systems ensure fewer accidents and damage, thus increasing vehicle availability. They also reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) and offer a fuel-efficient driving style supported by electronic systems. This applies equally to both trucks and buses.

Autonomous vehicles reduce operating costs by up to 50 percent

Electronic assistants already provide considerable savings potential to bus and transport companies. In the final development stage, however, experts expect a further reduction in operating costs by 35 to 50 percent. This is when electronics, software and algorithms assume full driving responsibility without a driver at the wheel, i.e. autonomous driving. Management consultants McKinsey reckon that the use of automation technologies at so-called level 5, the driverless vehicle, will reduce heavy- and medium-duty truck costs by 35 percent, largely due to elimination of the driver costs. McKinsey believes that operating costs could even be reduced by 50 percent in the case of vans, where driving personnel are currently by far the largest cost item.

Autonomous driving: Cameras and radar sensors provide data to assistance systems.
Arrow right

Technological basis Cameras and radar sensors feed assistance systems with data and drive the increasing automation of commercial vehicles.

Field trial with platooning drivers from MAN, DB Schenker and the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences
Arrow right

Relaxed and concentrated Platoon pilots at the wheel are just as calm and focused as drivers in conventional trucks. MAN tested this in a field test with DB Schenker and the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences.

0

years

is how long it will take until autonomous commercial vehicles are travelling on our roads.


 

0

percent

of urban transport will be automated in 2030.


 

0

percent

of automated trucks can be expected on motorways and defined routes by 2030.


 

In addition, especially in long-distance transport, trucks driving autonomously would not have to take breaks or rest periods and could operate virtually around the clock. The results of a survey by McKinsey experts indicated that fleet operators would be prepared to invest considerably more in appropriately equipped trucks to make use of this advantage. Conclusion: automation technology could provide commercial vehicle manufacturers with additional sales. Although the experts warn that this is not equal for all vehicles.  It is more likely to be those manufacturers who invested in development early on and became the first to offer trucks and buses with functioning automation technology who will benefit from the new technology. But competition is also intensifying because, in addition to the established commercial vehicle manufacturers, new technology companies such as Google, Uber and Tesla also want to play an important role in this newly developing market.

Initial tests are very promising

Given so many advantages and so much interest in automated driving, the inevitable question is: when will this technology be ready for series production? Buses and trucks are after all already capable of independent steering, acceleration and braking. And initial trials with autonomous commercial vehicles are now delivering very promising results. MAN Truck & Bus and DB Schenker have demonstrated this in the world's first practical test of platooning trucks in real traffic conditions.

Automated transports successfully in real traffic
Arrow right

Erfolgreich im Realverkehr MAN hat mit DB Schenker und der Hochschule Fresenius die Praxistauglichkeit und Effizienz von automatisierten Transporten unter realen Bedingungen auf der Autobahn bewiesen.

MAN has moreover developed the aFAS road patrol vehicle which can automatically follow a mowing or sweeping vehicle at a suitable distance and thus secure a moving construction site without any driver intervention. Part of the practical Hamburg TruckPilot test includes two MAN TGX prototypes transporting containers fully automatically within the container terminal – also completely driverless.  

Legislation and fast mobile internet required

Experts assess however that it could be over ten years before self-driving commercial vehicles are travelling on public roads. A recent study conducted by the consultants Boston Consulting Group (BCG) predicts significant future opportunities for self-driving commercial vehicles, but dampens expectations of rapid implementation in practice, especially in Europe. Because market launch of this technology will require harmonisation of international supervisory regulations. BCG experts believe this could prove to be difficult within the EU in light of the many legal differences between the Member States.

The infrastructure required represents a further hurdle. While today's assistance systems respond exclusively to sensors installed in or on the vehicle, fully autonomous trucks and buses will need to communicate with other vehicles and with traffic infrastructure systems. This enables information outside the vehicle's direct surroundings – such as road conditions on the stretch ahead, accidents or obstructions – to be fed into the vehicle's control computers. This technology shortens safety and braking distances, improves the accuracy of vehicle control and minimises errors. The minimum requirements for this are WLAN from vehicle to vehicle and the latest 5G fast mobile internet in every region of Europe. So transport within restricted areas like mines, large construction sites or port areas appears to be the most likely initial deployment of driverless vehicles. This is subject to far fewer legal and technical restrictions than transport on public roads.

The authors of the BCG study reckon that the proportion of vans operating autonomously by 2030, at least on partial routes, will be no more than ten percent of those that travel a lot in urban centres. In the case of heavy trucks that cover long distances on motorways or transport goods on defined routes, the share of autonomous vehicles should conversely already be around 20 percent in 2030.

Viele Flottenbetreiber haben längst den Nutzen der elektronischen Systeme erkannt und setzen diese vermehrt ein.

Text Andreas Lubitz
Photos GettyImages / Malorny

#Digitalization

#Automation

#Platooning