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IAA Commercial Vehicles 2016: Autonomous trucks in the starting blocks (Part 2)

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Autonomous driving starts at the factory site

Even if the current legal situation forbids highly automated trucks from cruising public streets, autonomous driving might establish itself on company yards and factory sites very soon. Suppliers and OEMs at IAA 2016 present solutions for autonomous docking at loading ramps called “Autonomous Yard Maneuvering” or “Maneuvering Assistants”. These systems are an extension of rear view and all-round vision assistants. They draw on data from ultrasound, radar and camera sensors when a truck is reversing and warn the driver of any possible collisions as well as offering him a better overview.

At the exhibition site, there were live demonstrations of commercial vehicles performing fully autonomous maneuvers. Visitors could see how the driver could leave the truck after arriving at the destination and grab lunch, for instance. Meanwhile, the truck has become completely self-driving and waits to be assigned a space at the loading ramp. It then docks autonomously and is ready for unloading - and if necessary, can be reloaded.

This addresses another question that our readers raised: when will buses drive fully autonomously without a driver? The example of Future Bus shows us that as long as the routes are equipped properly, the barriers to realization are of a legal nature – not a technological one.

 

 

Futurebus Innenraum - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

The autonomous bus: the star of the trade show

A further notable innovation for autonomous driving debuts in the field of passenger transportation. One of the stars of the IAA show is Daimler’s “Future Bus” – the partly autonomous bus that is already serving real commuters between the Amsterdam’s city center and Schiphol airport.

Due to both safety and legal reasons, a driver is still sitting behind the wheel as a stewart. But thanks to its elaborate sensor technology and the ability to communicate with traffic lights, the bus can already drive the rather challenging route full of bends and tunnels. Here is a 360 degree view of its cockpit:

The safety of professional drivers and other road users is at the fore when it comes to many other IAA innovations. The aforementioned turning assistant featured in the portfolio of several leading suppliers, namely Continental, Knorr-Bremse and ZF. This offers OEMs the possibility to implement it into future model generations. Using camera and radar, the system detects if pedestrians or cyclists are in the dead spot of the truck and warn the driver accordingly.

Digital wing mirrors are also supposed to increase safety with many companies showcasing them at the IAA. Wide-angle cameras are providing an enhanced overview of the zone immediately next to the truck. Beyond that, abandoning conventional wing mirrors is thought to improve the truck’s aerodynamics and thus lower mileage. But again, technology has outpaced lawmakers: so far, conventional mirrors are required by law as part of road traffic regulations.

The road towards autonomous driving continues

All that being said, the innovations at IAA Commercial Vehicles 2016 provide an overwhelming sense of a clear direction when it comes to the future. VDA chief press officer Eckehart Rotter concludes: “We are in the middle of a transformation of the whole industry. Automation and connectivity offer clear benefits since they can reduce empty journeys as well as the number of accidents. These are huge advantages for hauliers, drivers and logistics providers.”

Naturally however, given all of the new solutions on show, one question crops up: do suppliers and manufacturers offer those solutions just because they are technically feasible – or do they really meet the needs of the logistics industry? We posed this question to Christian Labrot, Secretary General of the German Federation of Economics, Transport and Logistics (BWVL). As with many technologies, he considers this a chicken-and-egg problem: Logistics demands new technologies which the industry delivers. At the same time, the industry shows logistics the new technologies that open up new potentials. Still, he remains convinced that many of the innovations presented at the trade show will increase efficiency and safety – and therefore will persuade entrepreneurs and end users of their utility.

In that sense, it seems evident that when the next IAA Commercial Vehicles rolls around again in 2018, the industry will have undergone big steps towards autonomous driving. And by then, the year 2025 will seem quite close already.

Did the IAA 2016 Commercial Vehicles live up to its promises? Do you think OEMs and suppliers presented convincing solutions towards more automation? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

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