Autonomous driving Platooning Start-up Tracks: Dating for trucks
Commercial vehicle manufacturers like Daimler consider platooning not worthwhile. Other truck manufacturers continue testing, although the pace is slow. The Berlin-based start-up Tracks wants to boost the technology with smart software. In the process, the principle of a well-known dating app will be applied.
The year just began when Daimler announced the end of a technology that was considered promising: platooning, i.e. operating in a truck network, was not economical. Too little fuel had been saved in the practical tests. A good five months after the announcement by the Stuttgart company, MAN, together with project partners, presented the results of a research project called EDDI ("Electronic Drawbar - Digital Innovation"). A convoy of two trucks was sent over a distance of 35,000 kilometres and collected data among other distances between Munich and Nuremberg. Instead of an estimated ten percent, consumption fell by only three to four percent. According to the project partners, however, this percentage could possibly still be reduced by reducing the distance between trucks.
Platooning in conflict
These two examples stand for the dichotomy in which platooning finds itself. On the one hand, virtual coupling is regarded as a technology of the future that can save CO2 and fuel - and whose potential is still untapped. On the other hand, various parameters have been calculated retrospectively for a long time now, and the savings potential is ultimately not sufficient for manufacturers like Daimler. Truck manufacturers have been researching the technology for over 30 years, says Jakob Muus, platooning should have been on the market long ago. "Battery-powered trucks don't work without platooning." Because it's not just a matter of saving diesel, but whether you can cover 700 or 800 kilometers - and therefore " enormous sums".
That's why the native Dane founded the Start-up Tracks in Berlin at the beginning of 2018. He wants to get platooning on the road as quickly as possible. Muus, who holds a degree in innovation management, previously worked in VW's corporate research department for several years. He also follows the approach of a research department with his seven-person team. The start-up company evaluates large amounts of data and works closely with manufacturers such as Volvo, MAN and VW Financial Services.
Tracks wants to define fuel consumption
Road surface, wind force, driving style, vehicle weight: these are just a few of the many factors that affect fuel consumption. According to Muus, only by taking all these factors into account is it possible to precisely determine the savings potential. The sticking point is to find out what you would have consumed if you hadn't driven in a platoon. That's why his team is currently working on software that will predict fuel consumption. Tracks feeds the data of OEMs from "millions of trips" to artificial intelligence. Jakob Muus: "Such a tool could be interesting for all commercial vehicle manufacturers". His vision is for two to three trucks to drive in a platoon that unites on the highway. He has no interest in so-called "planned platooning" within a fleet, because trucks would then be standing at the loading ramp at different times and drivers would have to wait. There are also too many risks, such as traffic jams.
Tinder for Trucks
Tracks not only wants to precisely determine the savings potential, but also to launch a "Matchmaking" app for trucks - so to speak Tinder for trucks. It is supposed to work like this: The truck drivers use an app to signal that they are ready to couple themselves electronically with other trucks. An intelligent software then identifies suitable "partners" and the drivers can approve or reject the platooning proposal of the app. Precise driving instructions navigate the trucks into a column. At the push of a button, the truck then switches to a semi-autonomous driving mode. The pedal data of the front truck driver is visible to the rear driver. "Trust plays an important role," says Muus, after all, the leading truck gives all driving commands such as "braking" or "accelerating". If a car crowds into a gap, the electronic drawbar disengages and the rear truck reduces speed.
Platooning: Money saved is distributed automatically
The next service comes into play to make platooning possible: A payment system. The software always reads the actual consumption of the coupled trucks and then sends the difference between the forecast consumption and the actual consumption "from back to front" without platooning. The money saved is then automatically distributed among the convoys.
Tracks is currently developing its technology and needs data from commercial vehicle manufacturers. Improving the algorithm is a tedious process - the software for predictive fuel analysis is scheduled to be on the market in November. The first real tests will start next summer. "We're probably testing our software in Sweden," says Muus. In Innogy Ventures, the start-up has already found an investor.
This article was first published in German by Automobil Industrie.