Within the framework of the “European Truck Platooning Challenge 2016,” two MAN trucks covered around 900 kilometers from Munich to Rotterdam in a platoon. A well-known guest from Berlin gave the green light. Project manager Daniel Heyes and his team speak about the challenges of the project.
It is 2 p.m. on April 4, 2016. Two orange trucks with the lettering “MAN Truck2Truck” are standing at the MAN Truck Forum in Munich, Karlsfeld, and are ready to go. Josef Lachheb and co-driver Xaver Römersperger have already taken a seat in the front truck. Andreas Resch and Stefan Jerg are just getting into the truck at the back.
Journalists have gathered at the entrance of the MAN Truck Forum and are waiting for a prominent guest from Berlin: German Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt will give the green light for the pioneer trip to the Netherlands. Within the framework of the “European Truck Platooning Challenge 2016,” an initiative of the Dutch government that currently holds the EU Presidency, various European truck manufacturers are sending their trucks from their home towns to Rotterdam. One extraordinary fact about the trip is that the trucks are connected in platoons via digital data transmission driving behind each other automatically at a short distance. Platooning concepts are becoming more and more important on an international scale. They reduce CO2 emissions, save fuel, relieve drivers, and increase roads safety.
Good to go: Dobrindt pushes the red button on the podium in front of the MAN Truck Forum together with Andreas Renschler, CEO of Volkswagen Truck & Bus GmbH, and Joachim Drees, CEO of MAN Truck & Bus AG. This is the starting signal for the drivers: Mr. Lachheb starts the truck in front, Mr. Resch follows in the vehicle behind. Both trucks pass the starting line and turn into the street. After a few meters, Mr. Lachheb in the truck up front takes control over both vehicles. The truck at the back closes up on the truck in front until they only have 13 meters between them and begin to connect digitally. They are now paired in a platoon bound for Rotterdam.
13 hours and 880 kilometers later, the platoon arrives at its destination at 3 a.m. The technological idea has worked out: the vehicles almost managed to stay in a platoon from Munich to Rotterdam the entire time. But first it is now time to rest. Tomorrow, on April 6, 2016, all manufacturers will present their platooning systems at a major event at the harbor of Rotterdam.
The trip to Rotterdam was a huge success for project manager Daniel Heyes, who knows the challenging parts of the project:
Mr. Heyes, what was your challenge in the platooning project?
There are highly complex components that correlate in platooning. The technological challenge was to adjust them and make the platoon efficient and easy to handle while being in control of every situation at all times. Apart from that, we also had to address registration issues. After all, every German federal province and the registration authorities in the Netherlands had to approve the project.
What special features does MAN’s vehicle concept have?
MAN has been dealing with platooning for some time now. It was important for us to make is as easy as possible for the drivers and to develop an intuitive control philosophy making platooning operations very easy to handle. In addition, we also learned that a combination of two trucks is best suited for the dense traffic in Europe.
Do you think platoons could be used in practice?
Yes, of course. Platoons will not be anything unusual anymore in future. The communication between the vehicles makes it easy to react quickly, which can contribute to making roads a lot safer. Furthermore, platoons reduce fuel consumption and make transportation on roads more efficient.
What will MAN’s next step be in this area after the “European Truck Platooning Challenge 2016?”
Our technology has been tried and tested for long journeys. Now we have to harness the positivity which the challenge brought to all manufacturers and use it for the future. We have to work on the communication standards of vehicles from different manufacturers and clarify registration issues. The platooning challenge has set an example: the next step will be one that we have to make together towards automated driving.
The developers, who were in the truck platoon, too, are quite enthusiastic about the trip:
Mr. Römersperger, you were in the passenger seat of the truck up front. The task of the driver of the leading truck is to control the platoon. What did you have to bear in mind?
Driving the vehicle in front means that you are responsible for the following vehicle and you always have to keep your eyes on it. However, thanks to the many test kilometers on the motorway, you develop a certain routine and know what you have to bear in mind. You get to know the system you created. Apart from that, we also controlled the navigation to Rotterdam.
What challenges are there on the motorway?
Even with the short distance, some cars still cut in between the platoon every now and then. The system is prepared for situations like that and automatically dissolves the platoon. We deactivated the system at construction sites and in dense traffic. Thanks to the elaborate control and display system, the driver of the vehicle at the back is informed quickly when the platoon is dissolved. There is still enough time to take over control of the vehicle.
Mr. Jerg, you were in the passenger seat of the vehicle behind and already drove the platoon in test mode for several kilometers. How was it for you when you gave up control over your vehicle for the first time?
It was a great experience with all the highly complex subsystems clicking together and I was able to hand over control completely to the vehicle only 13 meters in front. One interesting question for this challenge was, what several hours of automated driving at a short distance would feel like. But the platooning system works reliably and I was able to trust it at any given time. This meant that every kilometer on our way to Rotterdam was relaxed and safe.
What was the “European Truck Platooning Challenge 2016” like for you?
The challenge was a perfect opportunity to show the public that efficiency and safety with the help of state-of-the-art technologies are top priorities at MAN. The challenge contributed significantly to putting the issue of automatic driving with commercial vehicles back into the limelight while also pushing it further forward. Seeing that so many manufacturers participated in this challenge demonstrates that we all want to pull together.