The future has arrived. Autonomous trucks may have been a futuristic vision a few years ago, but “robo trucks” are gradually gaining ground in the USA and in Sweden. Pilot projects are already making good progress in the mining and agricultural industries. Experts are convinced that, in a few years, self-driving trucks will be a part of everyday life. So we shouldn’t miss out on this development on German roads.
In 2016, history was made in the USA. For the first time, goods were delivered by a fully self-driving truck – where cameras and sensors replaced the driver. Today, such trucks from Uber subsidiary Otto are already in use throughout the state of Colorado. Self-driving trucks from Embark are being used on a fixed route between Texas and Southern California, even though this is only on the highways. And in Sweden, discount chain Lidl is using completely self-driving electric trucks for transport between the individual warehouses. DB Schenker is also soon hoping to have autonomous trucks from the manufacturer Einride driving on public roads in Sweden. This T-pod project is to start in the spring.
In Germany, checks and tests are being carried out. In North Germany, the “Hamburg TruckPilot” project has been launched. This is a partnership between MAN Truck & Bus and Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG. In line with this, trucks are soon to be able to manage the 70 kilometres or so between Soltau and Altenwerder, and load and unload autonomously there. This is to be implemented by the time of the World Congress 2021. In the meantime, work is being carried out on the interim solution of platooning. Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer has given the green light for the first practical use globally of linked truck convoys. MAN Truck & Bus is also involved here and is working on the research project together with DB Schenker and Hochschule Fresenius – University of Applied Sciences.
By the end of 2019, the convoy will drive on a stretch of motorway of 145 kilometres at a distance of 15 metres, instead of the prescribed distance of at least 50 metres for standard trucks.
Convincing reasons in favour of self-driving trucks
Time is pressing. Since 2010, the annual traffic-jam length on German roads has quadrupled to over 1.5 million kilometres. Year after year, these traffic jams cost billions for the economy. And the German Department of Transport expects the transport on the roads to increase by around 40 percent by 2030. The expansion of the infrastructure will not be able to keep up with this. The advantages of self-driving trucks, which create more space, are therefore obvious. And such an intelligent solution is also safer. While a human driver only reacts after a certain reaction time, computer-controlled units only need milliseconds.
The President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry VDA Bernhard Mattes is confident that the legal requirements for fully autonomous vehicles will be met by 2021. “In Germany, truck manufacturers and suppliers are working hard on developing and testing automated trucks,” he says. And he also appeals for people to think bigger. “National initiatives are not enough. The necessary framework conditions also have to be created across Europe.”
There are above all three reasons for a quick change in thinking:
- First of all, it is a question of the impending gridlock on German roads and motorways. Year upon year there has so far only ever been new record traffic jam reports.
- Secondly, the demands of consumers will increase more and more, meaning that the demand for transport services will explode.
- And thirdly, there has to be a response to the lack of new drivers. As, without drivers, nothing will be moving. At least not yet.