Autonomous trucks to take to the Autobahn

Autonomous trucks to take to the Autobahn

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By Christoph Hammerschmidt

For the ATLAS-L4 research project, truck manufacturer MAN Truck & Bus, technology provider Bosch and suppliers Knorr-Bremse and Leoni are joining forces. Together with the automated logistics provider Fernride and the test tool manufacturer BTC Embedded Systems, they want to have autonomously driving trucks rolling on the motorway for the first time by the middle of this decade. As the L4 in the project’s name suggests, it is about autonomous driving at SAE level 4 – i.e. with a safety driver on board who can, however, rest on the side.

The economic driver of the project is the glaring shortage of long-distance drivers, which is becoming increasingly acute in view of the ageing of the workforce. ATLAS-L4 is intended to show that the use of Level 4 automated and thus driverless vehicles on the motorway is feasible, thus laying the foundation for innovative transport and logistics concepts. The project thus directly addresses the new possibilities opened up by the law on autonomous driving passed in Germany in 2021, with which the country assumes a pioneering position globally. The project is intended to lay the foundations for autonomous driving between logistics hubs on the motorway to make an effective contribution to avoiding traffic jams and accidents, to operate the vehicles more fuel-efficiently and to counter the shortage of driving personnel by eliminating less attractive driving tasks.

In the development phase, a safety driver will ride in the truck. For later series use, it is planned that the vehicles will drive completely autonomously. Technically, however, the autonomy according to SAE Level 5 is not intended, which would require a different technical design of the vehicles, explained a spokesperson for MAN Truck & Bus. Instead, the vehicles are to be brought into a safe state in the event of technical problems – this means that they pull over and automatically notify a technical supervisor, who will then dispatch a maintenance person to the vehicle. For further planning, the project will also explore the possibilities of teleoperation, i.e. direct control of the vehicle via 5G mobile communications, the spokesperson said.

As part of the project, MAN Truck & Bus is responsible for the overall system development and the integration of all components into the vehicle. MAN is also responsible for the data transmission to the vehicle and the commissioning of the Control Centre, which will monitor the test drives in terms of the technical supervision provided for in the law on autonomous driving. Brake specialist Knorr-Bremse is developing the special, redundantly designed brake system architecture that will enable the safe operation of a Level 4 truck in any situation. Project partner Leoni is ensuring that the on-board network and the electronic line distribution of the automation system always function reliably, regardless of any faults that may occur – not a trivial task in view of the high level of fail-safety required.

Bosch Automotive Steering is developing a fault-tolerant steering system for ATLAS-L4 that meets all the requirements for SAE Level 4 automation.

Other companies and research institutes are also involved in the project. The Munich-based start-up Fernride is investigating the possibilities of teleoperation in the hub-to-hub scenario addressed by the project. With Fernride’s teleoperation platform, autonomous vehicles can be monitored and, if necessary, controlled remotely.

The test tool manufacturer BTC Embedded Systems is dedicated to scenario-based and simulative test approaches for complete vehicle verification and safety validation with special consideration of critical driving situations.

In the project, the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security AISEC is developing methods for security risk analyses that are specifically tailored to the environment of automated trucks.

The Chair of Vehicle Technology at TUM is contributing its expertise with regard to various aspects of driving dynamics and is developing interaction concepts for technical supervision.

The Institute of Control Engineering at TU Braunschweig is developing concepts for the safe operation of Level 4 trucks and for the technical self-awareness of automated vehicles, among other things.

TÜV SÜD will contribute its experience with test environments for automated vehicles during the project test drives, testing the capabilities of the vehicles themselves as well as the validity of the simulation and evaluating the safety of the vehicles in the funded project as part of the release process.

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