Those are the key results of the world’s first field test in real logistics operations, carried out by MAN Truck & Bus, logistics company DB Schenker and Frensenius University of Applied Sciences.
As part of a research project sponsored by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), professional drivers drove two electronically linked vehicles on the A9 between the Nuremberg and Munich branches of DB Schenker over the course of seven months.
Having covered 35,000km during the test, the truck drivers – who drove at a distance of 15 to 21m – praised the driving comfort and general sense of safety.
The platooning system installed in the MAN trucks operated smoothly 98% of the time. Active interventions by the driver were necessary only once every 2,000km – “much less than expected” according to the project partners.
In addition, the pilot project demonstrated a 3-4% reduction in fuel consumption.
Alexander Doll, member of the management board for finance, freight transport and logistics at Deutsche Bahn, DB Schenker’s parent, says: “We have analysed our European transport network and it is safe to say that around 40% of the kilometres travelled could be carried out in platoons.” Further tests and improvements to the regulatory framework would be needed, Doll adds, but platooning would enable “even more reliable” transport.
University researchers tested the psychosocial and neurophysiological effects on the drivers. The drivers’ previously skeptical attitude changed once they experience the real test conditions, said researchers.
“A general sense of safety and trust in the technology is echoed in the drivers’ assessment of specific driving situations. None of these were described as uncontrollable,” said professor Sabine Hammer.
Other vehicles cutting in from adjacent lanes or cutting across multiple lanes was described as “disagreeable” by the drivers, but not critical – indeed, the fast response times meant drivers would now prefer a shorter distance between platooning vehicles, of 10-15m, added Hammer.
The research also found no differences for drivers in platoon runs in terms of concentration or fatigue.
For international use, the scientists recommend more research with longer periods in platooning mode.
The project partners say they are convinced that the potential of truck platooning can be further increased by future developments, adding that “new digital business models in logistics are conceivable”.