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How the truck is becoming a mobile logistics centre.

  • 3. June 2016
  • Connectivity
  • Photos: Daimler
  • Text: Walther Wuttke

The future of the truck is digital: how can we overcome the challenges we face in international road freight transport? The answer is through connectivity.

They are romanticised as the last lone warriors of the road. Truckers, who keep our economy moving in their 40-tonne HGVs, are the cowboys of the open road, lonely but happy and, above all, important. This is certainly how many outsiders see it. And trucks do in fact handle three quarters of all freight in Europe, and one million people are directly or indirectly employed in the transport sector in Germany alone. Are truck drivers really lone warriors? The answer is probably not. They actually work more as part of a larger network that is the lifeblood of national and international economies. They are also under extreme pressure because the development of infrastructure is lagging well behind the needs of the transport sector.

“This network is likely to become even more congested in future with the volume of international road freight traffic expected to increase threefold by 2050,” says Wolfgang Bernhard, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of the Trucks & Buses Division. “But one thing is certain: the road network will not triple in size.”

Wolfgang Bernhard, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, Head of the Trucks & Buses Division

New solutions for today’s challenges

There is no doubt that new connectivity solutions have to be found if the logistics network is to successfully meet the new requirements to deploy resources more efficiently. Only by making connectivity as effective as possible will we get the best out of our trucks. The conventional truck and trailer combo currently spends two thirds of its time waiting at unloading stations, at customs, in the workshop or in tailbacks. On top of that, the driver is legally required to take rest periods. And even when the truck is on the road, it is not always fulfilling its purpose. Bernhard: “One in four trucks on European roads has little or no cargo on board.”

Digital is quicker

There is hope, however, that the situation is changing for the better. Daimler, which invented the truck 120 years ago, is at the forefront of this development. The company is making the connected truck the central hub of the logistics network. “The connected truck can send freight papers to the cargo terminal at its destination ahead of time – and it can do this entirely by digital means,” says Bernhard. This documentation is then updated and forwarded to the carrier. The customer receives a confirmation of delivery that includes photos verifying that the freight was delivered undamaged. Even the customs clearance can be completed digitally and waiting times at borders can be avoided.

' One in four trucks on European roads has little or no cargo on board. '

Wolfgang Bernhard, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, Head of the Trucks & Buses Division

Just like a pit stop in Formula 1

Once connected, the truck will be able to autonomously communicate with the nearest workshop and make an appointment for repair if the onboard electronics have identified a problem that cannot be resolved by the driver using the onboard tools. Just like a pit stop in Formula 1, the mechanics at the workshop will be ready and waiting to install the replacement parts. Bernhard: “This also helps us as the manufacturer. The workshop and the truck can inform us of the technical details of the repair. This puts us in a better position to anticipate and prevent a breakdown because we can give the driver and the carrier plenty of warning.”

Connected communication also means that unladen journeys can be prevented, as the truck can inform the distribution manager of any unused cargo space. The relevant capacities are then registered on an exchange so that the truck can be utilised effectively.

A navigation system that works in real time

Admittedly, even the most effective connectivity systems cannot prevent time-consuming traffic jams, but they can at least help the overloaded road network to be used in the best possible way. Navigation systems are always warning of congestion that has already cleared by the time you reach it, but are not able to report on tailbacks that are developing. “Connected trucks close this gap by exchanging data with the traffic infrastructure and other vehicles in real time and reacting accordingly to the current traffic conditions,” says Bernhard. “This means that the connected truck really will know the best route to take to reach its destination.”

Booking the driver’s favourite table at the service station

The connected truck could also help drivers at the end of their working day by checking which rest area can be reached at the right time to ensure that the stipulated rest periods are taken. The rest area can be booked by the truck. And, if required, it will even book the driver’s favourite table at the service station.

On those occasions when additional power is required, for example on the challenging stretch of autobahn around the Kassel hills in Germany, the connected truck can mobilise additional horsepower ‘over the air’. After crossing a national border, new speed limits are enabled. This means that the truck is no longer purely a machine but part of an infrastructure that is based on connectivity and makes the best possible use of the existing road network. Bernhard: “The advent of the connected truck will transform the logistics network into a powerful data network.”

Pioneer in connectivity

Daimler demonstrated how connectivity can optimise the transport industry with a platoon of three interconnected trucks. This solution results in a more efficient use of the infrastructure, has less impact on the environment – thanks to lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions – and improves safety on the highways.

“120 years after the truck first came into being, it is time to reinvent it,” says Bernhard. It is time to connect it to the cloud so that it can realise its full potential.”

' 120 years after the truck first came into being, it is time to reinvent it,' says Bernhard. It is time to connect it to the cloud so that it can realise its full potential. '

Wolfgang Bernhard, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, Head of the Trucks & Buses Division

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