- What are the market opportunities and where?
- What are the specific challenges on commercial vehicles?
- What technologies are still needed?
- Yaniv Aronowich, Partner, Tadmor Levy & Co
- Tansu Isik, Head of Strategic Business Development & Global Marketing, Business Area Tyres, Continental
- Ofer David, CEO & Founder, BrightWay Vision (BWV)
- Fridtjof Stein, Senior Researcher, Daimler Trucks AGChaired by Yaniv Aronowich, the discussion began with the ongoing development by truck manufacturers with autonomous driving and according to Yaniv, in order to meet the potential twenty percent demand in the marketplace, he was interested to hear from the advances made by Daimler AG. Through its Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner truck brands (for Europe and North America) test trials have successfully been undertaken as far back as five years ago, on both sides of the Atlantic. Dr. Fridtjof Stein, representing the German automotive and commercial vehicle brand, stated that the company has a clear focus on automisation and from the ongoing research and development, the current Level II Phase (Level II = Partial Assistance, Level IV = High Automation) will move to Level IV in its next generation of trucks. “We have a clear focus on automisation and will be market ready with a good business case.” He admitted that the United States will herald the arrival of Level IV and beyond as both State legislation and regulations are more favourable to this advanced technology. For example, in 2015 Nevada facilitated the closure of some Highway routes to allow Level IV & V (full automation) Freightliner trucks free movement during the trials. Dr. Fridtjof Stein also mentioned other favourable factors such as the high standard of infrastructure and the extreme distance of the Highway network. “Autonomous trucks will only appeal to customers with special structures, those that operated from State to State, from hub to hub, that are close to the interstate links. From there the loads will be broken down and delivered by small electric vehicles in manual form.” The whole operation will be monitored remotely by the company’s central centre.
Ofer David, BrightWay Vision spoke about the Last Mile Delivery process and it requires a human element as the point of contact between the delivery/collection point(s). “Autonomous trucks will only work when running longer trucks over longer distances, operating double shifts and availing of night time driving even in harsh weather conditions.” He concurred with Dr. Fridtjof that autonomous technology will help to ease the driver shortage, which continues to be a serious issue in the United States. Ofer understands that driverless trucks need more road space and longer distance between vehicles when on the move, as safety is paramount.
The operational aspects of reaching this objective was discussed by Tansu Isik from Continental Tyres who outlined all the logistical challenge, especially the efficient management of big fleets. “Adaptive maintenance methods must apply with remote diagnostics and preventative maintenance systems required to ensure that downtime is kept to an absolute minimum. If there is a breakdown, connected services must react quickly with direct access to the local service and spare parts providers to speed up the necessary repairs,” he said. Continental, through its Connected Services, has been working with leading truck brands on sharing these high-tech development programme.
The question of whether we will see totally new designed trucks for the driverless operations was raised or will existing models continue to be equipped and trialled with all these necessary sensors and radars? Tansu Isik admitted that this move to remove the driver (from a large truck) is a ‘big jump’ and an ‘incredible risk’. He said that the technology will not need to redesign the cab, “It will still have a steering wheel, but with no infotainment systems.”
100% reliable solutions will have to be found as these trucks will drive faster, maintaining an above average overall speed. Their utmost safety will ultimately dictate the timeframe for their mass introduction. Tansu also agreed that trucks will become early adaptors to autonomous technology and adaption and that the US will facilitate the driverless direction sooner than Europe. The general opinion is that full autonomy in the urban environment will be a bigger challenge, with many obstacles (literally) in the way.
Continental’s Tansu highlighted the legislation and regulation challenges to be overcome, as so far they differ in each country across the globe. Governments must strive for compatibility and as in the case of the United States and Europe, for example, these regulations need to conform from city to city and across borders. High tech tracking and monitoring technology will have to be advanced further, according to Mr. Isik, to report on driving strategies, especially in urban areas and must include geo-fencing that can control the speed and movements of the vehicles.
BrightWay Vision’s Ofer outlined the combination of vision and sensory mechanisms required for autonomous vehicles to work. “While they try to replicate ‘the drivers eyes’, the autonomous brain is not equal to the human brain,” he warned. Their capability to operate efficiently in all kinds of weather conditions and ensure superior night vision work is of significant importance to Ofer.
Dr. Fridtjof continued on with the conversation stating that in the main, the tractor-unit will carry all of the necessary technology for the driverless system and not required on the trailer. But he did stress the need for sensory items to be fitted on the trailer where blind spots occur, in order to protect vulnerable road users or when operating within enclosed compounds etc.
All the contributors agreed that the transition to autonomous driving ‘is a marathon not a sprint’ and that there will be a need from Start-ups – high tech companies to pave the way further up the driverless vehicle road and that long distance trucks is the best and safest way to start. Jarlath Sweeney