Truck platooning will be used for distribution work in Germany as part of a trial from next spring.

In a partnership deal signed this week by truck-maker MAN and operator DB Schenker, the trial will see networked lorry convoys used on regular distribution work with HGV drivers on board, rather than dedicated testers.

An initial test phase early next year will use unladen two-truck platoons running on the A9 motorway between DB Schenker’s Munich and Nuremberg depots.

They will run without a load during this stage so driving conditions can be tested in ordinary traffic situations and the drivers trained in how to operate the vehicles and adapt to special driving techniques.

Tests will then progress throughout 2018 to move onto regular distribution work carrying real freight loads, with platoons running up to three times per day.

MAN and DB Schenker hope to answer a number of core questions relating to platooning throughout the programme, such as the best time to create a platoon and the most efficient way to form or disband a convoy according to traffic conditions.

Data transmission is also a key component under analysis, including finding the best way to monitor the platoon for operators, as well as the best way to communicate real-time traffic data to the lead driver.

In addition, the trial aims to understand the impact on and acceptance from HGV drivers of platooning.

A parallel study will involve evaluation of participating drivers to see how they cope with new technology, the best method of training, and whether additional activities could be permitted by drivers in the trailing trucks.

An autonomous future

“Networked and autonomous driving will revolutionise transport in future,” said  Ewald Kaiser, chief operating officer, freight at DB Schenker.

“Platooning provides us and our customers with a solution to the demand for completely transparent, as well as faster and more eco-friendly transport processes.

“We are confident that these tests will deliver information about the specific potential for increasing efficiency in real operating conditions over a prolonged period.”

DB Schenker is also using the trial to establish its own platooning roll-out strategy to fit in with its existing infrastructure.

For example, it will be exploring the best way to ensure its depots can facilitate the loading and unloading of a truck convoy quickly and efficiently.

MAN head of engineering central Gerhard Klein said the trial was a major milestone on the path towards autonomous driving.

The manufacturer has already conducted its ‘Konvoi’ research project between 2005 and 2009 testing platoons of up to four vehicles, as well as taking part in last year’s European Truck Platooning Challenge.

Klein said: “By working together with the logistics planners and the drivers, we are directly involving the users during the test and development phases. This is a huge step forwards which will eventually enable us to apply this technology in day-to-day operations.”