Truck manufacturer MAN and distribution company DB Schenker have signed an agreement to bring autonomous truck platooning trials onto European highways, starting in early 2018.
During the test phase, the companies will operate platoons on a dedicated ‘Digital Motorway Test Field’ on the A9 Autobahn between Munich and Nuremberg. Each platoon will consist of two trucks.
For the first time, the truck platoons will be tested in an authentic road traffic environment as part of DB Schenker’s regular business operations and instead of test drivers at the wheel, the vehicles will be operated by professional truck drivers.
To begin with, the trucks will run without a load, so that the driving conditions can be tested in ordinary traffic situations and the drivers trained in how to operate the vehicles. This will also give them the chance to learn any special driving techniques related to driving in a platoon environment.
This will be followed by weekly and later daily test runs. During the course of 2018, the tests will move on to regular trips carrying real freight, with the platoons running between DB Schenker’s Munich and Nuremberg depots up to three times a day.
Ewald Kaiser, Chief Operating Officer, Freight, for DB Schenker said, “Networked and autonomous driving will revolutionise transport in future. On signing this contract, we are not only consolidating our cooperation with MAN, but also corroborating our claim to be the driver of digital business models in the interests of our customers.”
“Platooning provides us and our customers with a solution to the demand for completely transparent, as well as faster and more eco-friendly transport processes. We are confident that these tests will deliver information about the specific potential for increasing efficiency in real operating conditions over a prolonged period.”
Both parties also wish to find out how this new technology is accepted by professional drivers. A parallel study will involve evaluation of the participating truck drivers’ experience and analysis of the test drive records in terms of the platoons’ interaction with surrounding traffic.
Gerhard Klein, Head of Engineering Central at MAN, said, “For MAN, this cooperation with DB Schenker is a major milestone en route to the launch of autonomous driving. Amongst other things, MAN already conducted the “Konvoi” research project between 2005 and 2009, testing platoons of up to four vehicles. This was followed in 2016 by participation in the European Truck Platooning Challenge.”
“Together with DB Schenker, we are now transferring the research findings acquired in the course of these projects into concrete logistics applications for the first time. By working together with the logistics planners and the drivers, we are directly involving the users during the test and development phases. This is a huge step forwards which will eventually enable us to apply this technology in day-to-day operations.”