Here is a excellent article about the trucks of the not too distant future, that we came upon on in the UK’s Transport News Brief, which is published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Transport News Brief will be aware how much talk of ‘the future’ has been in the industry of late. Only last week European transport body IRU set up a forum to discuss how road freight will change over the next twenty years, and a few days before that, an EU directive paved the way for new alternative fuel infrastructure over the coming years.
So what exactly is the future and what will it look like for the industry? The recent IAA trade show in Hannover demonstrated that all of the vehicle builders and original equipment manufacturers are taking major changes in the whole concept of freight transport very seriously. A good example of this is a Mercedes-Benz concept called Future Truck 2025 and equipped with something called Highway Pilot. The equivalent of autopilot on an airliner, when switched on it employs a camera plus sensors to ensure the vehicle doesn’t bump into anything on long and monotonous intercity runs.
Regulating its own speed, the truck uses a navigation app to find the best route automatically and ensures both the operator and the customer waiting for a delivery know exactly where it is and how long it will be before it reaches its destination. Once Highway Pilot gets busy the driver can sit back, relax and read the paper, while retaining the ability to take charge if necessary.
Daimler-owned Mercedes-Benz contends that giving a truck the ability to operate autonomously on part of its route offers hard-pressed owner-drivers the opportunity to manage the day-to-day running of their businesses from the cab, chasing debts, hunting around for backloads and so on. Drivers who are employees will be able to take on some of the tasks currently handled by management it adds, potentially giving them more job satisfaction; an important consideration given that hauliers are finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain people who want to drive a lorry for a living.
Other drivers would certainly be able to see Future Truck coming, especially at night. LEDs illuminate its bodywork, lighting up the paintwork and changing to a specific colour if the truck is running in autonomous mode.
Changes would have to be made to legislation before autonomous driving could become a day-to-day reality, but Mercedes believes there is every possibility that this will happen. “Our aim is to press forward with readying this technology for the market and to bring it to series-production standard,” says Daimler board member for trucks and buses, Dr Wolfgang Bernhard.
How acceptable the sight of a truck travelling down the M6 with whoever is supposed to be behind the wheel doing something else is another matter but it is worth noting that Mercedes is not talking in terms of a driverless drone.
However, there is one company that does see a future for empty cab, albeit for low-speed parking manoeuvres rather than everyday driving. Original equipment manufacturer ZF recently demonstrated a way in which the driver can become banksman. Equipped with an Openmatics telemetry system, a Servotwin superimposed steering system and the hybrid version of the TraXon gearbox, the ZF Innovation Truck can be manoeuvred remotely by somebody standing a few yards away equipped with a tablet computer. The steering wheel swings backwards and forwards as though a ghost had taken charge of it. The cab is unattended. Once again though the truck is not totally autonomous. Someone is operating it remotely, albeit removed from the usual position.
What ZF has developed looks like the ideal way of shunting trucks around a congested haulage yard or distribution centre. What is more, Innovation Truck is quiet and emission-free as only the electric motor in the hybrid system is employed.
Ways of cutting emissions from more conventionally engineered trucks were also on display at the show. MAN’s TGX EfficientLine 2 for example featured a new predictive cruise control system known as EfficientCruise. As GPS-based computer programme, it analyses 3D map data then predicts the right speed for the truck and automatically controls it, no matter whether the driver is travelling up a hill or down the other side. It does so with an eye to using the vehicle’s own momentum to cut fuel bills. MAN contends that fuel savings of roughly 6% are possible without affecting journey times.
MAN is by no means the only manufacturer favouring this type of cruise control. From next January onwards Daf will be offering Predictive Cruise Control and Predictive Shifting as an option on XFs and CFs equipped with AS Tronic 12-speed gearboxes. It is also doing all that it can to encourage operators to keep the decibels down with the introduction of the CF Silent, as noise too is a pollutant.
Push a button on the dashboard and decibel levels instantly drop to below 72dB(A). It’s all down to the way in which the engine’s software limits engine speed and torque and modifies the timing of gear changes with hush-hush running in mind.
As a consequence CF Silent can be certified as a Quiet Truck. That means it can be used to collect and deliver goods in urban areas where out-of-hours noise restrictions are in force. The newcomer will slip silently into the market from 2015 onwards as a 4×2 and 6×2 rigid and tractor unit.
Returning to fuel economy, truck makers are using every trick in the book to improve mpg and shrink the carbon footprint of their products, from scavenging waste heat to measures such as disengaging the retarder wherever possible.
Scania says that its newly introduced R4100D retarder can cut diesel consumption by around 0.5%. It adds that a similar saving can be delivered by the most recent version of Eco-roll, which determines when it makes economic sense for a truck to coast down hills in neutral.
Even the sun is being pressed into service, with solar panels used by Renault Trucks as one of a number of means of making its concept Optifuel Lab 2 laboratory truck more fuel-efficient.
Nor are alternative fuels being neglected. Truck makers are listing engines that can be run on 100% biodiesel, MAN has developed a hybrid system for long-haul trucks while Renault Trucks is busy trialling a battery-powered 16-tonner in France. Operated by Speed Distribution Logistique, it is being employed to deliver perfumes and cosmetics to Guerlain boutiques in Paris.
“We’re using it on 200km/125-mile delivery rounds,” says Renault Trucks project manager, Christophe Vacquier. Not to be outdone, Fuso has eight electric E-Cell Canter 6.0-tonners on trial with a variety of operators in Portugal.
Gaseous fuels are still in contention too. Iveco has developed Stralis Natural Power, a tractor unit fuelled by liquefied natural gas with a claimed range of approaching 500 miles.
Lane-departure and blind-spot warning systems are now a reality as is the ability of trucks to be brought to a halt automatically if there is the risk of a collision. ‘Platooning’, under which a convoy of electronically-linked vehicles travelling closely to one another led and controlled by a professional driver in a truck has been trialled successfully too. Able to leave the convoy at any time, all the vehicles automatically measure the distance from each other leading to safer driving, better utilisation of road space and lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
All of these innovations effectively demonstrate that commercial vehicles are becoming cleaner, quieter and safer than they have ever been and ought to bolster the case for moving freight by road in the future. However, both manufacturers and operators will need to ensure that Joe Public understands and appreciates the technological strides that have been made. Getting this message across remains a key challenge.
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