Commercial Vehicle Future Through Knorr-Bremse’s “Eyes”

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The following is excerpted from an interview with Dr. Peter Laier, Knorr-Bremse member of the Executive Board since 2016, with worldwide responsibility for the Commercial Vehicle (CV) Systems division, and was posted on the company’s website. The interview is far ranging, covering a number of CV-related topics.

Dr. Laier, where do we stand today with automated driving? Have the great hopes of the truck industry been fulfilled – or has the hype of the past few years given way to disillusionment?

On the contrary. Driver assistance systems for commercial vehicles in particular, but also automated driving, have received an additional boost in recent months. The global Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated the growth of online commerce, increasing global transport volumes and in turn the demand from logistics fleets for automated driving – partly on account of the global shortage of drivers. What’s more, automated driving offers a clear business case based on the potential to reduce costs by around one third.

Is automated driving booming worldwide or only in selected regions?

It’s a global trend that has remained constant, especially in North America and China. That is not to say that a truck will be driving automatically across the country, say from Los Angeles to New York, in the very near future. From the mid-2020s onwards, automated driving is likely to be introduced initially in North America and Asia for commercial vehicles in hub-to-hub transport, which means longer routes that have been specially approved: from a port to a logistics center, for instance, or between two logistics centers. In addition, there will be automated traffic in clearly designated “confined areas”, i.e. within the confines of a port, a mine or a logistics yard.

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Why is it that Germany and Europe are lagging behind?

The commercial vehicle manufacturers in Europe also have their work cut out when it comes to emission reductions. They have to cut the CO2 emissions of trucks in Europe by 15 percent by 2025 and by as much as 30 percent by 2030, based on 2019 levels. Therefore, the pressure on the major truck manufacturers to get their new electric drive concepts out on the road is increasing. The extremely high expenditure this entails is reducing their focus on automated driving somewhat for the time being. But that doesn’t mean European manufacturers and their suppliers are no longer committed to this field. Far from it. And here at Knorr-Bremse, we continue to drive forward automated driving and the further development of driver assistance systems.

Yet even in Europe there is more going on in the field of automated driving than many people realize. What are the most important projects for you, what is going well, where is there still a missing link?

A lot has happened in the first few months of this year alone. In Gunskirchen, Upper Austria, a driverless electric-powered transporter will be tested on a 600-meter-long test track over the next three years, not only on a factory site but also in public space. In Sweden, the Ministry of Transport has approved the testing of several automated trucks on a public highway – but in this case a driver and an engineer are always sitting in the cockpit to monitor the situation. Before the end of the year, an automated truck prototype is to operate on a container terminal at the port and on a 70-kilometer stretch of the A7 autobahn in the “Hamburg TruckPilot” field test. Meanwhile, a self-driving shuttle is already ferrying visitors to the Landesgartenschau horticultural show in Lindau. So we are also moving in the right direction and building momentum in Europe. It’s fitting that the German government just passed a new law on automated driving at the end of May, with the objective of establishing these innovative technologies, functions and services even more swiftly here in Germany.

To further boost the progress of automated driving, is collaboration with manufacturers now becoming even more important? In which areas is Knorr-Bremse cooperating particularly closely?

Highly complex technical innovations such as automated driving lend themselves particularly well to close cooperation in a spirit of partnership. The manufacturers contribute their vehicle expertise, and we take care of all aspects of vehicle dynamics, i.e. the brake and steering actuators and truck motion control. Other cooperation partners in turn supply software components incorporating artificial intelligence or the necessary electronic hardware. This broad spectrum of collaboration gives rise to alliances that are advancing the concept of automated driving with great dedication.

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What factors will determine how quickly major truck fleet operators deploy advanced driver assistance systems or even automated trucks?

The most important decision criterion for trucking companies is the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a truck over its entire service life. As such, truck operators always consider whether investing in a new technology will be lucrative for them, whether it will increase the profitability and efficiency of a commercial vehicle. This will be the case, for example, if using new technologies reduces fuel and/or labor costs, or if expensive downtime and empty runs can be avoided. And this is precisely where automation brings significant cost savings. At level 4 of automated driving, the truck could be operated without a driver on sections of road that have been approved for automated driving, such as motorways, with the driver then taking control of the truck again at the end of the approved section, for example at the highway exit. The cost savings resulting from this use case illustrate the economic sense of investing in automated driving. In addition, the frequency of accidents falls when trucks are driven automatically, and automated commercial vehicles can be out on the road for longer without a break, since the need for mandatory driver rest periods is reduced.

To view the entire interview post, click HERE.

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