One of the great mythologies of Australian long distance truck driving — the image of the 24-hour non-stop driver, staying awake on amphetamines and sliding past load restrictions, speed limits and compulsory rest stops — is set to bite the dust, courtesy of the Internet of Things.
Instead, at least on multilane inter-city highways, motorists can expect to see spontaneously assembled linked convoys of large semitrailers and B-doubles, nuzzling nose-to-tail under automatic driving systems at a uniform speed with no pointless passing or individual braking episodes, all under sensor-controlled, computer-managed driving systems reporting remotely to logistics centres through on-board telematics.
A highly explicit vision of this near-future of Internet-controlled, electronically managed, fuel-efficient, logistically adept, computerised transport has been laid out for this year’s 66th IAA Commercial Vehicle exposition in the multiple halls of the Hannover fairgrounds in the centre of Germany, from 22 to 29 September.
Fair organisers, the Verband der Automobilindustrie and the Bundesverband Guterkraftverkehr, Logistik und Entsorgung, have specified a demonstration area for new mobility world logistics, guided tours in German and English, test drives of new all-electric buses or vehicles with fuel-cell drive trains, and sessions with top experts in meshing electronics, computers and commercial vehicles.
Even unmanned drone aircraft for logistics deliveries get a guernsey. (The English translations of the two associations, by the way, are German Association of the Automotive Industry and German Freight Transport Association; or literally, German Haulage, Logistics and Waste Disposal Federation.)
The whole picture, including some imaginative projections of future logistic scenarios, lays out an extensive and steadily growing role for computerisation, software applications, optical fibre and Wi-Fi connections, telematics, automated, self-driving vehicles (with or without onboard monitor/minder human) and environmental cleanups.
Working through the detailed come-hither PR of the individual exhibitors, what is startling is the proportion of this new world which is already here, or about to be introduced over the next two or three years.
For example, one future logistics scenario envisages a truck proceeding to a computer assigned unloading bay, already clear and prepared for unloading, to find a computer-called servicing vehicle waiting to make some on-road diesel power adjustments.
These are to fine tune the computer-controlled dosing rate of pollution minimisation additive AdBlue into the exhaust stream in response to exact engine operating temperature and r.p.m.
On-board vehicle telematics, reporting back to logistics control headquarters, have notified slight discordances in the injection of the AdBlue diesel exhaust fluid required to virtually eliminate the three variants of nitrogen oxygen compounds, whose incidence would otherwise be increased by running the diesel engine lean to minimise carbon particles and unburnt fuel.
AdBlue isn’t some imaginative compound from the future. The German automotive industry has registered it as a brand name for pollution control diesel exhaust fluid, 32.5 per cent high quality urea with demineralised high purity water, with a global standards specification of ISO 22241.
Diesel engine manufacturers are already adding dedicated tanks for diesel exhaust fluid like AdBlue (or Daimler AG’s Blue Tec) to large trucks, buses, mobile and stationary machinery, railway engines and diesel-engined cars. Service stations are starting to put diesel exhaust fluid pumps next to existing diesel fuel pumps.
Adding telematics will be a logical next extension to a pre-existing design innovation sequence. Telematics through telecommunications, including the Internet, with centralised electronic control rooms, should also enhance several other standing preoccupations, such as transport of hazardous materials, securing loads and avoiding losses from damage to refrigerated containers (in extreme cases, such as expensive icecream confectionery, up to $500,000 per truck).
One specific instance of future hazard-handling singled out for attention at Hannover will be of particular interest to the IT and data processing industry. Lithium-ion batteries, with their higher energy densities, are in demand for battery-constrained devices, such as smartphones, tablets and a proliferating range of similar slimline products.
Unfortunately, carelessness in handling or manufacture can lead to subsequent problems and product recalls.
All these issues will benefit from improved driving quality and greatly-reduced accident rates as IT electronics pushes further into commercial vehicles. Multifunctional cameras, radars and ultrasound sensors will be scanning the driving environment and monitoring vehicle states and functioning, both for on-board controllers including automated driving and for reporting back for central management.
Things such as tyre adhesion on wet or slippery roads, the state of the vehicle tyres themselves, the radius of curvature and camber on bends where there are heavy loads, not to mention assembling heavy vehicles into linked convoys, under the label platoons, are projected to slash heavy vehicle accident rates.
The much closer telematic supervision of commercial freight fleets is projected to effectively end the skipping of mandatory truck driver rest periods, if there is an on-board driver at all.
In the imaginary example sketched out for the Hannover event, rest facilities and a pre-booked parking spot for the truck are organised on-the-run, though the land logistics industry could just as well make more use of the airline industry practice of changing aircraft operating crews, with centralised logistics systems, to keep the vehicle, if not the driver, going.
Freight transportation is likely to be one of the “early adopters” of
autonomous vehicles, states a 2015 report released by Main Roads
“Increased fuel economy, improved travel times and reliability, improved safety, time-distance-location pricing, driverless operations and platooning will all significantly benefit freight transportation. It is estimated that a four metre headway between trucks could reduce fuel consumption by 10 to15 percent. Platooning will also facilitate adaptive braking, which could further reduce fuel consumption.”
The report said that the introduction of autonomous vehicles and cooperative intelligent transport systems (employing vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure communications) will pose challenges for Australia's transport agencies compelling them to invest in relevant expertise for a successful transition to the new world of connected transport.