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A ride in the truck of the future

The year is 2030 and the truck is smarter, more efficient and more environmentally friendly than ever before. Thanks to intelligent networking and automation, it usually navigates through traffic on the highway itself. Meanwhile, the driver takes on other tasks such as route planning and processing freight documents - or uses the time for a break.

Intelligent cockpit

In the truck of the future, the driver no longer sits in a classic cab, but in a high-tech cockpit. All the data and information about the route and the cargo are projected onto the glass electronically in real time. And thanks to the 3-D augmented reality technology, the projections appear three-dimensional to the user. The additional display level allows the navigation information to be directly embedded into the real driving situation. When the driver is suddenly blinded by the sun, he controls a menu on the display using gestures. The windows dim slowly, while the displays automatically become brighter. Suddenly, a “15” lights up on one of the glass screens. The trucker driver knows that he has to leave the convoy in a quarter of an hour and at least for a short while he will once again have to take action himself. But before that there is enough time to check the traffic situation using the language assistant. Using V2V and V2I – vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure – communication the connected truck exchanges traffic data with distant vehicles and the infrastructure. In a fraction of a second, the route has been changed because the volume of traffic 50 kilometers further on is increasing steadily. Then the drivers informs the other trucks that he is going to leave the platoon.

The Truck 2030 of the TU Munich already shows today what the future of the intelligently networked truck could look like. Picture source: TU Munich
The Truck 2030 of the TU Munich already shows today what the future of the intelligently networked truck could look like. Picture source: TU Munich

The autonomous truck

Thanks to standard systems, in 2030 the more or less random platoons of trucks from various manufacturers can link up electronically to form freeway convoys for a certain period of time. Genuine progress compared with the long, lonely journeys of previous years, when truckers were often forced to brake by slower vehicles, or these giants of the road tried to overtake one another. Thanks to platooning, their speed remains high and changes little. As the trucks travel with short distances of ten to 15 meters between them, the air resistance is reduced. This brings down fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Furthermore, the close convoys take up less space on the roads – which leaves more room for other road users. This also considerably reduces accidents in comparison with the past. In addition, sensors and computer-control also help the driver in critical situations such as momentarily falling asleep. If the trucker suddenly nods off, for example, the intelligent sleep warning will immediately sound the alarm. This is based on constant video monitoring and assessment of the eyes and blinking. Steering behavior is also monitored.

The truck becomes the office

Now, at the right time, the autopilot gives the signal to move out of the formation before the freeway exit, and Schwarz retakes control of the steering. Actually, he doesn’t have to. His truck would also carry out this maneuver on its own, but after the last few hours in the cockpit doing his logistics tasks online, he allows himself a few meters of nostalgia, even if the joystick is more reminiscent of an aircraft joystick and does not really remind him of the big black steering-wheel that heavy-duty trucks had right up to the mid-2020s. Always online also means that stops for refueling and rest breaks can be planned exactly and appropriate parking spots can be reserved at the same time. Now he has almost reached the service station. His favorite table in the restaurant has also been reserved. After a break, the journey continues over the border to Austria. The connected truck has one standard toll unit for the whole of Europe, so manual payment is a thing of the past. The route now leads through Alpine terrain. Schwarz temporarily selects more power for his truck – more horsepower on demand.

 
The Future Truck from Mercedes-Benz gives a foretaste of the development of commercial vehicle technology in the near future.

Truck as a fully networked swarm system

The last stage is downhill. The driver reaches his destination – a large logistical hub near a major city. For a long time now, long-distance trucks have not been allowed to enter the inner cities. The last mile taking the goods to the retailers and customers is now covered by small e-vans and cargo bikes. Schwarz uses a tablet to maneuver the truck tractor into position. He stands alongside the truck and watches the process on the display from a bird’s-eye view. The system consists of a camera-based control system on the loading ramp. The sensors there detect the truck-trailer combination and send the steering commands to the vehicle. A fully automatic system unloads the truck’s container in less than 30 minutes. There are no more long waiting times at logistic centers and warehouses.

When the driver arrives at the dispatch station, a service vehicle is already waiting for him. His truck has registered that two tires have problems with the air pressure and sent this information to the forwarder. Back in the cockpit, the connected truck immediately indicates if it is not fully laden. The driver then offers the free capacity to others – via online freight exchanges that ensure efficient distribution of goods. Empty trips should always be avoided, and to this end the trucks must always be made available to other clients, but also connected with the loading and unloading stations. It’s hard to believe that way back – that is, at the beginning of the 21st century – on average around one third of all truck journeys were still empty. Some inefficiencies made the transports unnecessarily expensive.

Truck driver as an attractive career option

Fuel consumption, too, and with it the CO2 emissions, were much higher. It is true that efficient diesel engines are still in operation, especially in long-distance traffic. But climate-neutral fuels are used. And more electric trucks and fuel cell trucks are now on the roads. Air quality has improved – and the quiet vehicles long ago stopped producing noise. In addition, the image of the trucker has been transformed by connectivity. Truck drivers used to be mainly responsible for driving and for loading and unloading, but nowadays they are not only trained truckers but are also qualified in commercial logistics. And being better qualified also means earning a better income.

Visitors to the IAA Commercial Vehicles 2020 can experience much of what the professional driver experiences in 2030. Experience the world of buses, vans, trucks and trailers from 24 to 30 September 2020 in Hanover – the world's most important platform for the future of the commercial vehicle industry.