Future transportation of goods: autonomous high-tech trucks

They are connected, eco-friendly and drive autonomously: Intelligent trucks may revolutionize the logistics sector.

Mercedes-Benz Urban eTruck – Hightech-Lkw für die Stadt

A glimpse at the future of trucks: Mercedes-Benz presents the eTruck. (Picture: Daimler)

Trucks determine the transportation of goods. In Germany, three quarters of transportation is effected on the road – with upward tendency. Without far-reaching innovations we will face a collapse of traffic. The good news is that the industry is well prepared – as it showed at the IAA Commercial Vehicles.

For example, Daimler presented in Hannover a full range of innovations from an electrically driven truck to new assistance systems and Internet services. Wolfgang Bernhard, chairman at Daimler Commercial Vehicles defines the future direction: “In the next ten years, we will experience more changes than we have lived in the last 50 years.”

Connected with the environment

As a first step, the trucks will be connected with their surrounding area. This presents a great advantage to transport companies: Today, one third of all drives are done with empty trucks. Additionally, long waiting periods at the loading and unloading sites are still normal today. There is plenty of room for more efficient logistics workflows. In future, clients shall be informed about space on the loading area on the specific route in real-time. Efficient distribution will be done by freight and vehicle exchanges.

As the trucks will be permanently online in future, the shipping companies as well as the sender and the recipient of the freight will be informed to the minute about the order status. The system also communicates eventual changes of the route or delays. This helps the logisticians to react a in case of delayed delivery and also for the planning of the unloading.

With its study VisionX, Bosch presented the functions a truck could have in ten years. The vehicle gets on-going information about the route, traffic jams, bypasses or possibilities for unloading at the final destination. The routing can be adapted optimally to the actual traffic situation or new loading sites. As the freight forwarder will have coded access to the data of the truck and the loading status at any moment, the vehicle can be organized flexibly and the cargo hold can be used optimally. Future safety technology: Sensors will survey the freight. For example, they will register if non-authorized persons try to enter the loading area. This function is intended to prevent freight thievery.

En route – autonomously

The truck will take over the steering of the prototype – at least partially. On the motorway, it will fit into a so-called Platoon – a sort of freight train consisting of trucks. Together with the other trucks, which will follow each other with a distance of 10 to 15 metres, the truck follows one other truck at the head. They will be interconnected via electronic vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Thanks to synchronized interventions on speed, deceleration and steering, the Platoon partner will be safer than driving alone, says Bosch. Moreover, driving in the slipstream will reduce fuel consumption by 10 per cent. This is an important aspect thinking of the fact that fuel accounts for 25% of costs. “New technology for commercial vehicles is successful if it increases profitability and efficiency” says Markus Heyn from the management board of Bosch.

According to forecasts of the federal Department of Transportation, truck freight traffic will rise by 40 per cent until 2030. In view of this fact, the linkage of trucks shall also help to utilize the streets to capacity. A better coordination of traffic is indispensable. Car drivers will benefit from the information about traffic jams or road condition, which will be forwarded by the trucks to the Cloud.

Read more: New driver assistance systems to prevent truck rear-end collisions

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