The journey of autonomous vehicle may have been on a slow start in the passenger vehicle segment, but now it seems to be picking speed in the commercial vehicle segment. Demonstrating the potential capabilities of the technology, the automated snow removal by two self-driving Mercedes-Benz Arocs in Immendingen in Germany shows a successful application for automated commercial vehicles in closed areas.
The joint project of Lab1886, the innovation unit for new business models within Mercedes-Benz, and Daimler Truck is said to have now become a product that can be used as a solution for various customer requirements in sectors such as on-site logistics and agriculture.
Lab1886 and Daimler Trucks, together with Fraport, demonstrated the operation of self-driving snow-clearing vehicles in non-public closed areas for the first time in October 2017 as part of a pilot project on the site of the former Pferdsfeld air base. The in-house operation in Immendingen, which has now been started, is based on the findings of this project.
As part of the project, the self-driving Mercedes-Benz Arocs vehicles are being tested under extreme conditions at the new large-scale test site in Immendingen. At the site approximately 20 hectares of test areas must always be free of snow, ice and water. To ensure this every day at the start of the tests in the morning, two self-driving Mercedes-Benz Arocs are in use overnight. Trained specialists supervise the trucks on site. Depending on the snow conditions, the vehicle's lane is determined and adhered to with centimetre precision. In this way, the roadway is precisely cleared along gravel beds. The automated control of the clearing devices as well as the clearing strategies were developed in cooperation with the device manufacturer Aebi-Schmidt.
The partners say that automated snow removal is one of many applications of AXYARD, the technology product jointly developed by Lab1886 and Daimler Trucks.
Daimler says the name AXYARD stands for automated solutions (A=automated) that are used in various use cases (X) in closed terrain (YARD). AXYARD’s approach is to automate Mercedes-Benz trucks by equipping them with sensors and ECUs. This allows them to complete predefined routes on closed terrain and be digitally conducted, monitored and orchestrated in a central control system - completely driverless.
Susanne Hahn, head of Lab1886 Global said: "With AXYARD, we offer an innovative complete solution for commercial customers. We help them to optimise processes on their premises and to make their operations more efficient. The highlight of our new product are the wide range of applications of the technology: Whether in port and storage operations or in large-scale agricultural operations, to name but two examples, the use of AXYARD increases productivity."
How does AXYARD function
At the heart of AXYARD technology is the vehicle interface 'Remote Truck Interface' (RTI). With RTI, vehicle functions can be operated remotely and data can be exchanged. This also works in a network of several vehicles. The vehicles are equipped with a high-precision GPS location (DGPS, differential GPS) and have state-of-the-art 'vehicle-to-vehicle' communication (V2V communication). Due to the interaction of the innovative interface RTI as well as the control and remote control unit, an extremely fast and not least secure data exchange between vehicles and the infrastructure of the test site takes place. To make this work in real time, a complete data exchange takes place every 0.1 seconds between the vehicles and the main control unit of the RTI.
Dr. Christian Ballarin, head of Advanced Engineering for Driver Assistance Systems, Autonomous Driving and Connectivity at Daimler Trucks said: "We focus on two specific use cases for automated driving: regular use of the highway and motorway, as well as on journeys in cordoned-off areas, such as 'gated areas', e.g. with automated snow clearing vehicles on the site of the former Pferdsfeld air base and now on the test track in Immendingen or at the Brazilian sugar cane harvest."
When it comes to autonomous driving capability in regular traffic, Daimler Trucks offers the Mercedes-Benz Actros, the Freightliner Cascadia and the Fuso Super Great as the world's first manufacturer of semi-automated vehicles (SAE Level 2) ex-factory. At the same time, the Autonomous Technology Group at Daimler Trucks is driving the development of highly automated trucks (SAE Level 4). The aim is to bring this technology into the series by the end of the decade. The testing on public highways in the USA, which started in autumn 2019, is an important step in this direction.
Range of applications from agriculture to logistics
Daimler says driverless systems offer many advantages. Automation can increase productivity and save fuel. This makes them interesting for industries such as agriculture and logistics. In addition to the use in the snow in Immendingen, automated trucks from Mercedes-Benz have also been reliably helping to harvest sugar cane in everyday use in the Brazilian sugar cane harvest since 2018.