Daimler touts benefits of the connected truck

DUSSELDORF, Germany — A truck that is always running, always full, never breaks down and can avoid traffic jams; that’s Daimler’s vision and it believes it can achieve such a truck through connectivity.

The company brought together more than 300 members of the media representing 36 countries this week to discuss the future of trucking and connectivity. Recognizing that a truck today spends only one third of its time actually driving, Daimler committed to make its vehicles more connected. It will spend roughly half a billion Euros on connectivity by the year 2020.

All Daimler’s trucks will be connected to the Internet, opening up new possibilities to improve productivity, according to Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler Trucks globally.

“We are connecting the truck with the Internet, making him the main data node of the logistics network,” he said. “It connects all those involved in goods: drivers, schedulers, fleet operators, workshops, manufacturers and insurance companies or authorities. They receive information in real-time, which was previously unavailable: about the condition of the tractor unit and semi-trailer, traffic and weather conditions, the parking availability at motorway service stations, rest areas and much more.”

Daimler outlined several ways connectivity can change the industry, including through the use of semi-autonomous vehicles and truck platooning. The company demonstrated a three-truck platoon on an active German Autobahn, just outside Dusseldorf.

But Daimler’s vision is bigger than that. It wants the truck to become a decision-maker in transportation and logistics operations, choosing the best route based on traffic conditions, notifying the operator when a part is about to break and giving the driver the ability to focus on other things during monotonous driving conditions. This is necessary, said Bernhard, because global truck traffic is expected to triple by 2050.

“One thing’s clear: the road network will not triple,” he said. “And this is a huge challenge for everyone and everything involved with logistics.”

Bernhard said the transportation and logistics network is connected by “sketchy” or non-existent data. This, said Bernhard, is why trucks spend about two-thirds of their time waiting, instead of actually delivering freight, or delivering partial loads. And it’s also why drivers are stressed and often cannot find a safe place to park for their rest time.

“These are all very different problems, but they all have the same root cause,” Bernhard said. “There is a lack of real-time information. A lack of real-time information regarding arrival time, cargo space, traffic flow, rest areas – and I could go on and on…Fortunately, there’s hope. Soon, these problems can be problems of the past. We now have the solution at hand: connectivity. The connected truck can provide the real-time information that is now lacking. That means the connected truck becomes the main data node of the logistics network.”

How will this work in real-world terms? Bernhard described a scenario in which the truck sends its freight papers to its destination in advance, allowing drivers to immediately drop their load upon arrival. The truck can notify the customer that its goods have been delivered without damage with a picture to prove it. The truck can transmit toll documents in advance. The truck can tell the shop when it needs a part replaced or repaired, so that arrivals back at the shop are scheduled like a Formula 1 pit stop. The truck can even tell its owner when it has cargo capacity available so that it can be used to pick up nearby loads.

Bernhard said the connected truck will even be able to choose the best route based on real-time traffic conditions.

“Connected trucks really know which route to take,” he said. “This, again, helps us to use our limited network of roads better.”

The connected truck will also allow insurance companies to charged based on driver behaviour. Daimler also plans to bring over-the-air engine programming to market, as early as 2017 in North America. It will be able to change horsepower parameters, for example, on the fly, so an operator in the mountains gets extra power to get up the hills or so speed limiter settings can be adjusted based on local regulations.

“Connectivity creates a whole new universe of applications,” Bernhard said. “The examples are manifold, but the pattern is the same: Without the connected truck, information flows within the logistics network were sketchy and fragmented. With the connected truck, the main data node is established. The connected truck provides real-time information to all participants in the logistics network. It links the isolated nodes of the network. And even more, the connected truck turns the logistics network into an information power grid. So, if you asked me to be really bold – if you asked me to blueprint the ultimate connected truck, I’d say this: This truck will always be driving, it will always be fully loaded, never be stuck in a traffic jam, it will never fail and it will be piloted by a happy driver. There will be no paperwork, no accidents or breakdowns. Okay, I am well aware that we might never completely get there, but it’s the direction we’re taking.”

To support this vision, Daimler established a new Digital Solutions and Services division, which will be based in Germany.


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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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