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Daimler connected truck, a success for all

Tomorrow: the fast steps towards the fully autonomous truck

Connectivity is when everyone communicates with everyone and everything else, to the benefit of all parties involved. This is also when all those participating in this tight-knit communication network receive the correct information at the right time and in the right place.

  • Always on: truck sends and receives data in exchange with driving partners
  • Networking generates safe, smooth transport flows
  • Daimler Trucks leading the way with 365 000 vehicles boasting full connectivity from FleetBoard and Detroit Connect
  • Yesterday: the evolution of the fully connected truck began 30 years ago
  • Today: autonomous driving in a convoy of three trucks
  • Tomorrow: the fast steps towards the fully connected and autonomous truck

Road users from a vast network, much in the same way as the stars in the sky virtually interconnect to create constellations. Daimler Trucks leads the field in connectivity for commercial vehicles.

The globally leading truck manufacturer has been pursuing connectivity as an integral element of its technology strategy since 2013, already connecting up more than 365 000 vehicles worldwide over this period.

In future, it will no longer be sufficient to optimise individual flows belonging to the value chain. These flows require a network in order to exploit the available synergies to the fullest. In this process, the truck becomes an element of the Internet of Things.

The intelligent, fully connected truck is the success formula for companies, drivers and society alike.

An object the added value of which grows massively again as a result of interconnection with other objects and devices – for the benefit of all those involved.

Through V2V and V2I communication – Vehicle to Vehicle and Vehicle to Infrastructure – connectivity can prevent gridlocks, markedly reduce fuel consumption and emissions and further lower the number of traffic accidents. Society benefits from enhanced safety and a reduced strain on resources and the environment.

The connected truck

Companies draw benefits from optimised logistic processes, saving time and cutting costs. The strain on truck drivers as they go about their demanding work is relieved considerably. In a nutshell: the intelligent, fully connected truck is the success formula for companies, drivers and society alike. Daimler Trucks is systematically developing and expanding its corresponding services and technologies.

Connectivity has long been reality for Daimler Trucks

While connectivity has only recently become a buzzword for the logistics sector, Daimler Trucks has already been offering networking and telematics services for many years.

  • Connectivity within the engine, between engine and the transmission, between the drivetrain and the route ahead has long been the basis for ever lower fuel consumption and emissions.
  • Connectivity provides the foundation for ever more effective fleet management – through market leader FleetBoard, for example.
  • Connectivity is the essential basis for the continually self-optimising truck which travels intelligently and autonomously along the motorway to its destination – more safely and economically than ever before.

In a nutshell: connectivity – that is, communication between everyone and all things – represents the future of logistics, particularly in the context of the complex movement of goods within a closely intertwined economy comprising diverse specialised operators. Connectivity provides the platform for the seamless organisation of flows of goods and commodities. For fast, environment-friendly, resource-conserving and thus highly efficient transport operations. The truck plays a decisive role here as the backbone of goods transport.

The truck plays a decisive role here as the backbone of goods transport

Connectivity provides the platform for the seamless organisation of flows of goods and commodities. For fast, environment-friendly, resource-conserving and thus highly efficient transport operations. The truck plays a decisive role here as the backbone of goods transport.

A look back in time: the concept of connectivity emerged exactly 100 years after the invention of the automobile

130 years ago, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz invented horseless mobility, and 120 years ago they did away with the horse-drawn cart for the purpose of transporting goods: On 2 October 1896 Gottlieb Daimler filed a patent application for the first ever truck. The next step now entails driving without continual intervention by the driver. Connectivity brings the truck close to the original meaning of the word “automobile“, which derives from a combination of the Greek word “auto” (self) and the Latin

The next step now entails driving without continual intervention by the driver. Connectivity brings the truck close to the original meaning of the word “automobile”, which derives from a combination of the Greek word “auto” (self) and the Latin “mobilis” (mobile). An automobile is thus an autonomous vehicle which moves of its own accord.

30 years ago – exactly a century after the invention of the automobile – the then Daimler-Benz AG laid the foundations for the development of the automobile of tomorrow, when it initiated the Prometheus research project with the aim of evolving of making road traffic in Europe safer, more economical, more environment-friendly, more comfortable and more efficient.

With the support of various governments and coordinated by Daimler-Benz, more than 300 scientists and engineers at automotive manufacturers and automotive component suppliers applied themselves to ambitious projects. Goods transport by road played a key role in Prometheus.

Connected truck that beneefits the driver

With the support of various governments and coordinated by Daimler-Benz, more than 300 scientists and engineers at automotive manufacturers and automotive component suppliers applied themselves to ambitious projects. Goods transport by road played a key role in Prometheus.

Back then, typewriters were the norm in offices. Mobile telephones were extremely rare and expensive, and the size of a briefcase. The idea of a high-performance smartphone or a fast, wireless internet connection belonged in the realm of science fiction. Truck drivers were very much on their own when out on the road, and cross-border journeys were still something of an adventure. It was down first and foremost to the individual’s skills whether consignments arrived on time.

Truck drivers were very much on their own when out on the road, and cross-border journeys were still something of an adventure. It was down first and foremost to the individual’s skills whether consignments arrived on time.

The engineers involved in the Prometheus project worked on assistance systems to avoid accidents and on communication networks among vehicles and between the vehicle and the route – what we now refer to as navigation.

In short, from 1986 the engineers laid the foundations for today’s fully networked vehicle.

With short- and long-range surveillance, monitoring of the road friction level, assistance systems with intervention capabilities, on-board computers and vehicle networks, new information systems for the driver, strategies for self-organisation of all driving manoeuvres in traffic, new communication centres for data transmission between vehicles, the exchange of hazard warnings between vehicles, traffic optimisation via sensors with traffic control systems, Europe-wide route guidance systems, telematics systems for commercial vehicles and multi-sensor concepts to detect variables which are not directly measurable. In short, from

In short, from 1986 the engineers laid the foundations for today’s fully networked vehicle.

Truck connectivity began with Promote Chauffeur

Some 10 years after the launch of the Prometheus project, from the mid-1990s various developments emerged which together paved the way towards vehicle connectivity: on-board electronic systems, mobile communications technology, the use of GPS data and utilisation of the internet.

The terms “connectivity” and “autonomous driving” had yet to become established when the “Promote Chauffeur” got underway in 1998. Two electronically interlinked semitrailer/tractor combinations moved along with a short distance between the leading and the trailing vehicle. Their progress was controlled by infrared signals on the trailer of the leading vehicle and cameras on the trailing truck – the so-called electronic drawbar.

Their progress was controlled by infrared signals on the trailer of the leading vehicle and cameras on the trailing truck – the so-called electronic drawbar.

The two trucks were linked by a radio connection. The second vehicle was supplied with all the data on the driving status of the leading vehicle. Its steering, braking and acceleration operations followed those of the leading vehicle, and it maintained a speed-dependent distance of between six and 15 metres. The core of Promote Chauffeur consisted of on-board-computers in the vehicles which were responsible for correlating all the data.

The core of Promote Chauffeur consisted of on-board-computers in the vehicles which were responsible for correlating all the data.

Neither autonomous driving nor connectivity with other vehicles and the infrastructure were yet on the agenda: the leading vehicle was operated entirely by manual means. Equally, interactions with other vehicles, such as to ensure that cars return safely to their lane after overtaking, were not yet possible. The technical solutions were already in their infancy, but the corresponding vocabulary had not yet evolved. Today, trucks have both the solutions and appurtenant names at their disposal – Highway Pilot and Highway Pilot Connect.

The technical solutions were already in their infancy, but the corresponding vocabulary had not yet evolved. Today, trucks have both the solutions and appurtenant names at their disposal – Highway Pilot and Highway Pilot Connect.

Turn of the millennium: the next step towards connectivity goes by the name of FleetBoard

The next advances on the road to connectivity followed very swiftly in a different field – telematics. Daimler was again at the forefront of this development with its trucks. Introduction of the FleetBoard telematics system on board a major customer’s vehicles began in 2000. For the first time, the truck now became a fully integrated element of the logistic transport chain. Route planning, continuous positioning, the transmission of vehicle data – FleetBoard connected driver and vehicle with the outside world.

The development of FleetBoard continued apace. In 2004 FleetBoard presented an interface for the integration of data into forwarding agents’ own software systems and also unveiled the DispoPilot as a mobile hand-held device for logistics management, navigation and scanning.

FleetBoard has since become an integral part of daily operations for haulage companies. Its on-board computer provides the platform for the transmission of diverse items of data, such as error codes in connection with breakdowns. Today there are some 180 000 vehicles on the road with FleetBoard. The Stuttgart-based company currently employs over 200 people and is represented in 40 countries around the world.

Detroit Connect ensures connectivity in the NAFTA market

In the key commercial-vehicle market of North America, Daimler Trucks North America is stepping up its activities in the area of networked services through its stake in Zonar Systems Inc., a leading developer and provider of logistics, telematics and connectivity solutions. Daimler Trucks North America and Zonar have maintained a partnership for the last five years that began with the market launch of the “Virtual Technician” remote diagnostics system and continued with the development of the all-round solution “Detroit Connect”.

As part of “Detroit Connect”, the “Virtual Technician” system sends a snapshot of the engine’s technical status to the Detroit Customer Service Center when warning lights come on so that the team there can analyse the data, identify the problem and send out an email with advice on what action should be taken. “Virtual Technician” can reduce downtime due to servicing and thus cut maintenance costs.

In coordination with the “Virtual Technician“, “Detroit Connect” complements Zonar’s “Ground Traffic Control (GTC)” using a GPS satellite network to determine the exact location, the speed and the fuel consumption of a truck or a whole fleet from any internet-enabled device, e.g. an on-board tablet.

Detroit Connect” is the first telematics solution in the USA and in Canada to be able to determine the cause behind fault messages during the journey. Used in more than 185 000 vehicles, “Detroit Connect” has already clocked up billions of kilometres.

The next milestone: the Highway Pilot System on board the Mercedes-Benz Actros and Freightliner Inspiration Truck

Autonomous driving is essentially possible without full-scale connectivity in the form of V2V – Vehicle to Vehicle – communications, as demonstrated by the Highway Pilot, Daimler’s system for autonomously driving trucks. The Highway Pilot is kept closely in touch with its surroundings by radar and camera systems, however. No autonomously operating truck is permitted to move an inch without this secure connection to the world outside of the vehicle.

The autonomous truck in the guise of the Mercedes-Benz Actros with Highway Pilot or its North American counterpart, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, scans its immediate and more distance surroundings with extreme precision by means of camera and radar systems, applies multisensor fusion to analyse the data and adapts its position on the road and its speed accordingly, independently of other vehicles.

To this end, the Highway Pilot combines the functions of the familiar adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems and additionally incorporates steering intervention.

For the first time, it controls the truck’s lateral guidance, as well as performing longitudinal guidance. Only with this lateral guidance function – which is without parallel in the field of commercial vehicle development – can the truck be kept safely in the middle of its lane automatically.

The Highway Pilot functionality is initially limited to motorways. This natural territory of the long-haul truck lends itself to autonomous driving. At a later stage, autonomous driving is also conceivable away from these truck routes, on roads with oncoming and crossing traffic.

Connectivity enables vehicles to inform one another of their destinations and directions of travel, their speed, their position on the road to centimetre accuracy and the slightest changes in speed and direction. This makes their behaviour calculable, enabling the safe coordination of distances between vehicles and even high speeds.

Today: autonomous driving in a convoy of three trucks

Highway Pilot Connect represents an initial further development of the autonomously driving Actros with Highway Pilot by means of connectivity. Connectivity plays a key role here. Their interconnection enables two or more trucks to form a platoon observing the tightest safety distance of 15 m while maintaining the same speed. The close distance between the vehicles reduces drag, resulting in a substantial lowering of fuel consumption and emissions – on average by up to seven percent for all vehicles in the platoon.

In contrast to the earlier experiments with Promote Chauffeur, with Highway Pilot Connect it is now possible to link up several semitrailer/tractor combinations to form a platoon. And not as a rigid formation as was the case almost 20 years ago, but with an extreme degree of flexibility. Cars can pull out of and back into the lane in which the platoon is moving at any time, for example.

Today, the trailing vehicles no longer “blindly” follow the leading truck. As every member of the platoon, including the leading vehicle, is equipped with the Highway Pilot, the platoon essentially consists of autonomously driving trucks which team up temporarily for practical purposes – road-bound goods transport in its most efficient form. A vehicle can pull out of the platoon at any time, and appropriately equipped trucks can join the platoon at any time.

Connectivity ensures that all the vehicles respond immediately to unforeseen events: if one truck has to brake, for example, all the vehicles behind it will also brake automatically. The reaction time is only one-tenth of a second – a fraction of the time that elapses before a driver responds to an event.

The available technology enables all members of the platoon to be kept informed about the driving situation of the entire platoon at all times. A camera on the leading vehicle records the driving situation ahead of the vehicle, for example, and relays the image to monitors on board the following vehicles. Members of the platoon are equally able to see their own positions within the platoon on their monitors at all times.

Daimler Trucks is already technically capable of demonstrating the diverse functions of platooning on the road

Daimler Trucks is already technically capable of demonstrating the diverse functions of platooning on the road and in flowing traffic today with Highway Pilot Connect.

The Promote Chauffeur or the electronic drawbar from 1998 have thus become reality, thanks to state-of-the-art data recording and processing technology. For the first time, interaction now takes place between autonomously driving trucks, with each vehicle reacting precisely to the vehicle ahead. An intelligent Interaction also takes place with other road users.

Connectivity means smooth transport

Data are the new raw material shaping our present and future. Trucks with connectivity on board generate vast quantities of this raw material. A present-day Mercedes-Benz Actros already incorporates hundreds of millions of lines of software code – more than a jet. 400 sensors are already active on a semitrailer/tractor combination today, accumulating all types of data.

These data optimise the drivetrain and minimise fuel consumption and emissions. The anticipatory cruise control system Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC) is a good example of the applications involved here. Since 2012 already, PPC has correlated the data from three-dimensional road maps with the data collected from the truck’s drivetrain, thus combining a perfect knowledge of the route with an equally perfect knowledge of the vehicle.

PPC shifts gear in anticipatory mode, always selecting the appropriate speed on uphill and downhill stretches and driving better than even an excellent driver ever could on a permanent basis. Data additionally enhance safety, by means of timely warnings and active intervention. They determine whether a driver’s braking and acceleration are appropriate to the given situation. On the basis of these data, drivers can be provided with tips on their driving style. They are rated and can be supported with driver training.

Data provide the basis for precisely controlling entire truck fleets. From positioning through routing to the transmission of data pertaining to completed and new jobs. In case of a breakdown, a push of a button is all it takes to transmit the error code, thus enabling help to be provided swiftly and efficiently.

The recording and relaying of consumption data and many other cost factors renders each individual truck transparent. This only marks the beginnings of data utilisation, however.

The connectivity which permanently links the driver and vehicle with operations planning, with consigner and consignee, with other vehicles and with the infrastructure, as well as with other drivers, friends and family heralds the start of a technological and sociological revolution.

Truck drivers remain in touch with those closest to them while on the road. Although they are alone in their cabs, they can contact friends or family at any time.

The transportation of goods by truck is becoming safer and faster, more environmentally-friendly and more humane. In short, it is taking on a whole new quality. In the face of increasing flows of goods, a highly strained infrastructure and a sensitive environment, this offers good prospects for all parties concerned.

Smart communications open up an even broader scope of possibilities than this, however, as trucks serve as data collectors while on the move, and in future they will also become data distributors. In the context of V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) communication, trucks can pass on not only current traffic information, but also weather data and updates on road conditions. This benefits all other road users.

truck console

Provided they have connectivity on board, they will receive precise data in real time on the route ahead and suggestions for alternative routes when necessary – and in a much faster and accurate manner than conventional radio traffic information could ever do.

The scope of the information can extend far beyond classic traffic jam warnings – weather bulletins and warnings of rain, snow or icy roads can be derived from the combination of data on traffic density, speed, windscreen wiper activation, temperature and traction.

Other types of data benefit business partners, such as insurance companies, which are able to identify individual risk profiles depending on mileage and types of use and can thus adapt their premiums with bonus systems on an individual basis. Not only in terms of individual fleets, as has been the case to date, but also at the level of individual trucks and their drivers.

Comprehensive information creates comprehensive safety

Information can be relayed selectively to different user groups. V2V comprises data between road users within a localised area, V2I between vehicle and infrastructure for the purposes of forwarding and processing. Full connectivity also means enhanced safety. When V2X messages to all relevant road users record, identify and pass on every vehicle movement and every instance of a stationary vehicle, unforeseeable events no longer arise.

The traffic jam which today surprisingly appears over the brow of a hill then becomes equally as foreseeable as sudden cross traffic, imminent cases of road users disregarding the right of way, a wall of fog or a rainstorm. The truck is thus able to look around the corner, as it were – the driver is alerted in good time and the truck is braked. Digital maps foresee not only uphill stretches but also the radii of bends, and reduce the vehicle’s speed in good time.

Camera systems identify pedestrians and cyclists, providing corresponding alarms and interventions

Camera systems identify pedestrians’ and cyclists’ probable directions of movement and provide for corresponding alarms and interventions. Before an accident can occur.

Within V2I communications the truck does not only pass on data, it also receives data – about current speed limits, traffic light phases and unforeseen events. Data which have often been supplied by other vehicles directly beforehand, processed by external computers and transformed into recommendations and instructions. Every traffic sign, every sign gantry can also serve as a sender and receiver of such information.

Trucks are “always on” and signal impending problems

Trucks are “always on”. It is already routine practice today for truck drivers with a FleetBoard contract to transmit error codes at the push of a button in the event of a breakdown. In the near future it will become possible to avoid breakdowns in many cases by way of scheduled preventive maintenance.

Trucks will then indicate their operational status not only to the driver via instruments in the vehicle, but also to the transport company and the regular workshop. Intervention will then be possible as soon as any deviations from normal conditions are identifiable. The truck will be checked by remote diagnosis, and new software can be installed by remote maintenance employing the so-called flash-over-the-air (FOTA) method. The “TeamViewer” which is familiar to computer users will become standard on board trucks, too.

When it becomes apparent that a visit to the workshop will be necessary in the foreseeable future, this will be integrated into the trip planning at an appropriate time and location. This measure will help to avoid irksome breakdowns and expensive downtimes.

“Always on” also entails the continuous synchronisation of data. The haulage company, the consigner and the consignee are all kept informed up-to-the-minute on the status of the job in hand. Any changes to the route or delays are notified to all parties concerned in real time, enabling those affected to react immediately when necessary, e.g. in cases of delays in delivery.

When a new route leads through demanding terrain, it is conceivable that the company might book a higher power rating for a brief period by digital means – an optimised version of the Top Torque option which is already available from Mercedes-Benz today, offering boosted torque in certain gears at full load – as Top Torque on demand. In the Alps, the Sierra Nevada or on any other demanding stretches, the required power can be called up whenever it is needed.

“Always on” also means that refuelling stops and breaks can be planned precisely and refuelling and parking spaces can be reserved accordingly. Drivers can order their meals or other services in good time. Equally, they can communicate online with friends, family or other drivers. The FleetBoard Driver.app which is already in popular use today with the My Community communication platform provides an idea of the shape of things to come here.

Flowing traffic instead of hours spent in traffic jams

Connectivity results in perfect traffic coordination and maximum use of the available road capacity. Current statistics show how necessary this is: 568 000 traffic jams were recorded in Germany alone last year, with road users spending 341 000 hours in traffic jams. This represents a vast waste of resources for the economy as a whole. By receiving and passing on information about their movements, fully connected trucks can provide one another with warnings about traffic jams and unnecessary waiting times, while the entire population of such vehicles can prevent many traffic jams from the outset.

Connectivity and coordination between individual navigation services and public traffic management enable timely and foresighted route planning. Individual routes can be configured to achieve a perfect balance according to given priorities on the basis of the parameters distance, journey time and driving time, fuel consumption/emissions and costs.

While even connectivity will not be able to banish traffic jams entirely from overstrained roads, the incidence of traffic jams will be reduced substantially.

And should anything untoward ever happen, the truck will automatically activate an emergency call, which will also be relayed to the traffic system, leading to corresponding information for other road users on the route concerned. And in real time, as opposed to radio traffic information at the top of the hour.

Connectivity: faster checking, driving, loading

Connectivity enables transport processes to be managed more efficiently. The departure check for a truck can be carried out by smartphone at the push of a button, for example.

Once the freight has been unloaded, in future it will be possible to book new jobs automatically via route exchanges. In combination with the FleetBoard telematics system, this will ensure full use of the truck’s capacity without overstraining the driver and will reduce ineffective empty runs. This offers potential in particular for small and medium-sized fleets – ultimately, the identical number of trucks can transport more goods, thus also helping to reduce CO2 emissions.

And all this would be possible without the use of paper – shipping and customs documents would be unnecessary. The vehicle coordinator’s paperless office duly gives rise to the paperless cab, with less bureaucracy, less misunderstandings and above all more time.

Calculable journey and working times stimulate the economy

Connectivity of commercial vehicles will thus lead to a general refinement of transport and logistics. Punctual and efficient transport operations will no longer be left to chance or dependent on incalculable general conditions, but will lend themselves to substantially more effective planning than is the case today.

Goods transport is evolving into a self-learning transport system which is perfectly integrated into the overarching logistical environment. Thanks to the broad scope of information serving as a basis for their mode of operation, fully connected and autonomously driving trucks will run more economically and generate less emissions on the road. With an unaltered maximum speed, it is likely that they will actually move noticeably faster as a result of improved traffic flows.

Platooning offers additional efficiency benefits. Autonomously driving trucks will seek appropriate partners for this purpose on their route automatically. Plannable journey times also lead to plannable times at ramps and loading doors. The irksome waiting times which are common today will no longer arise, as loading bays and slots will be booked in advance.

Docking will take place automatically or with a smartphone app from outside of the vehicle. Drivers of Mercedes-Benz trucks who have become accustomed to Active Parking Assist or the corresponding app will be keen to also have this facility at their disposal when it comes to the incomparably more difficult task of manoeuvring a semitrailer/tractor combination.

The marked improvement in the plannability of operations and procedures will stimulate business and the economy as a whole in the face of growing transport volumes.

The cab as a connected working and living environment

The driver’s workplace will change. Autonomous driving, including the additional platooning function with optimised distances between participating vehicles, is already feasible today with the familiarly highly functional workplace on board a Mercedes-Benz Actros. This variant demonstrates the normality of the Highway Pilot and Highway Pilot Connect, far from the realms of science fiction.

With a flexibly designed dashboard which enables different cab layouts and usage scenarios to those which apply today. The cockpit is evolving more than ever into a fully fledged living space. The tablet computer is becoming an HMI – human/machine interface. In this context, the term “machine” applies not only to the truck itself, as the driver also uses the tablet for communication purposes – with their haulage firm or their preferred service station.

The truck becomes an intelligent vehicle which attends to its driver’s needs

The truck becomes an intelligent vehicle which also attends to its driver’s needs. “Attention Assist” is already able to warn drivers when they begin to show signs of drowsiness, by reference to the vehicle’s movements. And the FleetBoard Driver.app provides tips on sporty exercises to help keep drivers fit.

The fast steps towards the fully connected and autonomous truck

These are all foreseeable steps, rather than futuristic visions. Daimler Trucks is in the vanguard here, setting a fast pace. In 2014 the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 was the first autonomously driving truck on the road.

The Freightliner InspirationTruck and the Freightliner InspirationTruck with Highway Pilot followed just one year later – both approved for road use. They are supported by telematics service provider FleetBoard, which provides the interface between the truck and the outside world for haulage companies, consigners and consignees alike.

Connectivity has long become reality

Connectivity has long become reality. Its further development and the new possibilities which it opens up every day give rise to interesting prospects for the future. 30 years on, what began as a vision engendered by creative engineers embarking on the Prometheus project in 1986 is the status quo, opening the door for a new innovation push. Online on the Internet of Things with the trucks from Daimler.

 
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Tristan Wiggill
Seasoned writer, journalist, photographer, and editor.
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