The burgeoning parcel services market is transforming the transport sector. Increased shipments, more of which are carriage-free shipments, will require solutions in order to make the overall logistics chain more efficient, while simultaneously combating increased urban traffic congestion, reducing the pressure on drivers and roads, and cutting freight costs. With its autonomous maneuvering function 'SafeRange', the ZF Innovation Truck 2016 demonstrates how sensors, intelligent electronics and mechatronic systems can optimize processes at transport hubs by networking vehicle and depot. Based on stationary camera data, the concept vehicle maneuvers automatically to the loading dock – precisely, efficiently and emission-free.
Automation and networking are transforming safety and efficiency in mobility across all industry segments. This is true of the logistics sector where the burgeoning parcel services market calls for new solutions along the entire supply chain to meet growing demand and increasing cost pressure. While digitization, cloud connectivity and intelligent route planning have paved the way for new, flexible and customized delivery concepts, extensive networking and automation of systems and functions can substantially increase the efficiency and safety of workflows at depots and transport hubs.
Collisions while maneuvering can result in costly vehicle damage and downtime, slowing down loading and unloading as a result. Maneuvering the truck accident-free up to the loading dock would require sophisticated environmental recognition using sensors on the trailer. Consequently, the forwarding company’s entire trailer fleet would require fitment – an impractical solution in the price-sensitive logistics industry. "With the Innovation Truck 2016, we are aiming to deliver a highly practical concept which optimizes workflows within the logistics industry and factors in the cost considerations of transport companies,” explains Winfried Gründler, head of Truck & Van Driveline Technology in ZF’s Commercial Vehicle Technology Division. “That’s why we’ve advanced development of the autonomous maneuvering function in the Innovation Truck.” The development began with a ZF concept unveiled in 2014, which allowed a driverless, long heavy-duty truck to be easily maneuvered using a tablet.
Loading dock and truck networked
The Innovation Truck 2016 adopts a new approach. The system’s eyes and brain do not necessarily have to be in the vehicle in order to automatically trigger electrically powered mechatronic systems in the truck. ZF has networked truck and depot systems to implement the autonomous maneuvering function SafeRange. Stationary cameras on the loading dock detect the maneuvering truck which is simply tagged with a target on the rear of the trailer. A computer installed at the depot calculates the trajectory and transmits the data via Wi-Fi to the ZF Openmatics telematics system in the truck. Here the vehicle control system can take over – using ZF TRW's active electric power steering, ReAX, and the TraXon Hybrid automatic transmission system to steer the truck up to the loading dock electrically and emission-free. This is an added development to the 2014 ZF concept, relieving the person operating the system from carrying out the remote maneuver; the operator simply begins the operation using the tablet and maintains the function active until the vehicle has maneuvered into position.
ZF uses proprietary hardware and commercially available systems for its networking solution. This combination ensures that ZF's software can accurately analyze the images from the stationary camera. During the initial maneuvering phase, the truck could be at a 90-degree angle to the loading dock, thus obscuring the target from the camera. In the absence of camera images at this point, the truck is tracked and controlled using GPS data. Other Wi-Fi solutions can be used to transmit the computer signal to the truck if the vehicle does not have ZF's Openmatics telematics system installed.
During the maneuvering operation, the calculated data is streamed to the vehicle where a maneuvering controller relays the target speed and target articulation angle to the ZF driveline and steering systems. These systems then adjust the speed and steering angle accordingly. The camera or GPS track the vehicle’s actual movements and the curved path is adjusted as necessary.
Safety and efficiency
The entire system boasts a high level of safety. Pedestrian detection automatically interrupts the maneuvering operation – irrespective of the commands given via the tablet – whenever someone is between the trailer and loading dock. The truck will only keep moving if the operator constantly gives the appropriate command on the tablet (“dead man’s switch”). As soon as the operator takes their hand off the tablet, the truck stops.
Frequent maneuvering substantially increases fuel consumption for trucks. The ZF systems in the Innovation Truck have been designed for maximum efficiency, thus helping save fuel while maneuvering. The TraXon Hybrid will normally allow the short distances in the depot to be driven in electric mode. The electric motor also provides very precise longitudinal acceleration. The steering has been designed so that full servo assistance is also available in electric mode, i.e. with the engine switched off.