As part of the EDDI research project, which was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, professional truck drivers drove two digitally coupled vehicles over seven months on the Autobahn 9 between Nuremberg and Munich. In such a configuration, the driver assistance and control systems of the participating vehicles are connected via a radio link so that their driving and braking manoeuvres are coordinated in real time. The vehicles can thus drive one behind the other at a very close distance; the leading vehicle determines the speed and direction. The purpose of the arrangement is to enable the rear vehicles to take advantage of the slipstream of the vehicle in front and thus save fuel. In addition, the drivers of the rear vehicles can be relieved and turn to other tasks.
After about 35,000 test kilometres, the truck drivers, who drove at a distance of only 15 to 21 metres, praised the driving comfort and the general sense of safety. In the practical test, fuel consumption savings were also proven, although they were lower than expected. According to the partners, the use of truck platoons could ensure more efficient use of space on motorways, less congestion and greater road safety.
The truck manufacturer MAN Truck & Bus, the logistics company DB Schenker and the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences took part in the practical test. According to DB Schenker, the test showed that platooning can be used extensively in the logistics network. Around 40% of the kilometres travelled could be carried out with platoons, said Alexander Doll, the member of the Management Board responsible for logistics at DB Schenker parent company Deutsche Bahn AG.
According to the experience of the testers, the platooning system installed in the MAN trucks worked 98 percent smoothly. The driver only had to intervene once every 2,000 kilometres – much less frequently than expected. The pilot operation also achieved a 3 to 4 % reduction in fuel consumption, “We were able to show that platooning has the potential to make a contribution to reducing consumption and CO2 emissions. First and foremost, we are pleased that the system works reliably and can increase safety on the motorway. Platooning is therefore an important step for us on the road to automation,” says Joachim Drees, Chairman of the Executive Board of MAN Truck & Bus SE.
The Fresenius University of Applied Sciences investigated the psychosocial and neurophysiological effects on drivers. The live experience has brought about a significant change in the drivers’ attitude, some of which had previously been critical. “General feeling of safety and trust in the technology are reflected in the evaluation of concrete driving situations by the drivers. None is described as uncontrollable,” says Prof. Dr. Sabine Hammer from the Institute for Complex Systems Research at Fresenius University of Applied Sciences. Vehicles passing through or entering by other road users were perceived as “unpleasant” but not critical. “Because of the system’s fast response times, drivers would prefer a shorter distance of only 10-15 meters,” says Hammer.
The cooperation partners were convinced that the potential of truck platooning could be further increased by further developments. In addition, new digital business models in logistics are conceivable.