AutoTruck: From the logistics center to the road

In the joint AutoTruck project, the Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems is working with key industry players to develop autonomous trucks that will initially be deployed in logistics centers. The trucks will be controlled by a driver when outside the so-called automation zones.
The first autonomous truck is set to be operational in the premises of Emons Spedition in Dresden by the end of 2019. Once the driver gets out of the truck at the gate and heads home after his shift, the truck should drive itself to the loading ramp, dock itself automatically, and then park itself after unloading. Autonomous accomplishment of these tasks, which so far had to be completed by the truck driver, is the aim of the joint AutoTruck project – fully automated distribution trucks for automation zones. The Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems in Dresden is working closely with key industry players to make this a reality. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy as part of the “New Vehicle and System Technologies” specialist program.

Orten Electric-Trucks, based in Bernkastel-Kues, will be converting an 18-ton Mercedes diesel truck into an all-electric vehicle. Götting KG in Lehrte fits the truck with safety laser scanners in the front and at the rear bumpers for immediate emergency braking to prevent collisions. In addition, the company is also developing a technology for precise positioning via GPS and map-matching to make it possible to compare the truck’s location with a digital map.

HelyOS enables the AutoTruck to autonomously dock at the loading ramp. The truck then moves to the next predefined position once loading has been completed
The Fraunhofer Institute’s research team for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems is in charge of implementing the autonomous driving features and is working on an online control station, the HelyOS web application (highly efficient online yard operating system), allowing an operator to control autonomous trucks from any location via an internet browser on a smartphone, tablet, or PC. The vehicles can be displayed on a digital map and on custom maps in the logistics area. In addition to the location, HelyOS also displays status information such as battery charging levels.
Another essential research project component is the live maneuver planning, TruckTrix, which is an algorithm for heavy transport planning, developed by the Fraunhofer Institute. It plans and calculates the route for an order as well as compares this route to that of other autonomous vehicles while accounting for fixed obstacles and time limits.

Autonomous driving requires a zone in which the vehicle is continuously connected to the controlling computer. “For the digital map to be sufficiently distinct, it must have well-known landmarks such as signs, lamps, or buildings’ corners”, explains Dr. Sebastian Wagner, team leader at the Fraunhofer IVI. WABCO Development, Hannover, is responsible for wireless communication between the vehicle and the infrastructure.

AutoTruck has enormous application potential

AutoTruck is intended for use within a secure area. “The project has enormous application potential”, says Wagner: truck depots, mines, ports, company premises, agriculture and air freight – autonomous trucks could be deployed in enclosed areas in the future, “as long as no human interaction is required”. The scope of automation will also continue to expand over time and, for example, be coupled with a merchandise management system.

The exclusive deployment of autonomous trucks in depots only requires certification of the machines. However, the aim of the project is to ensure that all installations are structured in a way that AutoTruck can also be certified for use on public roads. The autonomous features will be deactivated when the truck is being driven on public roads and the driver takes control again.

“Most of the technologies we have developed can be transferred to public roads in the medium and long term,” explains Wagner as he outlines the development potential, “examples include control algorithms, obstacle detection, positioning, and even communication between truck and other infrastructure.”

Text by Marion Frahm
Photo, illustration and video: Fraunhofer IVI
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