MAN-Platoon-DB Schenker

DB Schenker has given the thumbs up to introducing truck platoons within its operation, after completing a seven month trial in live traffic of the technology.

The seven month trial, sponsored by the German government and operated by DB Schenker, MAN Truck & Bus and Fresenius University, saw two electronically-linked loaded trucks driven 15 to 21 meters apart over a total of 35,000 km on Autobahn 9 between the Nuremberg and Munich branches of DB Schenker.

Reporting the trial’s results this week Alexander Doll, director of Deutsche Bahn, DB Schenker’s parent company, said the trial had demonstrated that platooning could be used extensively in the company’s logistics network.

“We have analyzed our European transport network and it is safe to say that around 40% of the kilometers traveled could be carried out in platoons,” he said.

Joachim Drees, CEO of MAN, said the pilot project had demonstrated a reduction of between 3% and 4% in fuel consumption, adding that “platooning is an important step for us on the way to automation”.

During the trial the platooning system operated smoothly 98% of the time, according to the trial results, only requiring active driver intervention every 2,000 km, which was much less than expected by researchers.

The platoon truck drivers also praised the driving comfort and the general sense of safety, with professor Sabine Hammer of Fresenius University noting that the field test brought about a significant change in the drivers’ previously sceptical attitude.

"A general sense of safety and trust in the technology is echoed in the drivers' assessment of specific driving situations,” she said.

The drivers also reported that whilst they found cutting in by other road users “disagreeable” during the trial, they did not class it as “critical” due to the fast response times of the system.

However, it has prompted them to recommend that the gap between vehicles be reduced to between 10 and 15 metres (from the current 15 to 21 metres).

EEG measurements also showed that there was no difference in the drivers’ levels of stress in terms of concentration and fatigue when compared to a normal run.

Andreas Scheuer, Germany’s federal transport and digital infrastructure minister, said platooning will change drivers’ prospects.

“The drivers have a key role to play here. In a digital truck they will be modern logistics specialists. This will open up new prospects for the profession."

The German-led platooning trial in live traffic as part of DB Schenker's logistics operation, scooping a similar British-led trial, involving DAF and DHL, which is due to launch on UK motorways this year.