DB is a pioneer in autonomous driving


Article: DB is a pioneer in autonomous driving

Germany's first autonomous bus line, platooning tests and highly automated S-Bahn operations

DB operates Germany's first autonomous bus line in Bad Birnbach. On-demand concepts for public transportation without a set schedule are also being tested in several different German states. Together, these two new services create brand new options for flexible and green mobility in cities and in rural areas. The push to introduce new technology in autonomous driving extends to logistics as well. DB Schenker is the world's first logistics provider to test networked trucks, or platoons, under real-world conditions. It is partnering with MAN and Fresenius University of Applied Sciences on the project. In platooning, trucks draft off of each other, which boosts efficiency and reduces fuel consumption. Platoons were tested on a 145 kilometer section of highway between Munich and Nuremberg in 2018. 

DB Schenker and Einride, a Swedish startup, are putting the Einride Pod a fully electric autonomous truck, to use in commercial operations for the first time. Beginning in May 2019, the Einride Pod will shuttle between two DB Schenker sites in Jonköping, Sweden, including along a section of a public road.  The self-driving electric truck does not have a driver's cab and can be controlled remotely if necessary.

T-Pod self-driving electric truck
T-Pod self-driving electric truck

The first rail projects are under way as well. DB is working with Siemens on digitalizing operations for the Hamburg S-Bahn. The Digital S-Bahn Hamburg project is the first to be implemented as part of Deutsche Bahn's Digital Rail for Germany program.

Self-driving public service vehicles

The public service vehicle drives silently through the streets of Bad Birnbach, a spa town in Bavaria. What drivers and pedestrians see is a small electric bus that is not only quiet and environmentally friendly; it is also has no driver, steering wheel or gas pedal. All the bus needs is an attendant on board who can intervene if necessary along the route between the center of town,  the spa and the station since October 2019. DB operates Germany's first autonomous bus line in Bad Birnbach. The project is managed by ioki, DB's new business unit for autonomous road transport and on-demand mobility.

DB is already a pioneer in operating autonomous electric buses and can draw on experience from a number of tests. In addition to the pilot project in Bad Birnbach, Hamburg will also be getting a test site for autonomous driving as part of the smart city partnership between DB and the city of Hamburg. A self-driving vehicle was in use at the EUREF campus in Berlin as part of a pilot project with Berliner Verkehrsbetrieben (BVG), Berlin's transit authority, until the end of 2018. The on-demand service was the first that passengers could call using an app.

Platooning at DB Schenker

The term "platooning" refers to a system that vehicles use on the road in which at least two trucks drive in a tight convoy on a freeway, supported by technical driving assistance and control systems. All of the vehicles in the platoon are linked to each other by an electronic "drawbar" that uses vehicle-to-vehicle communication. The truck in front sets the speed and direction, and the others follow. The electronic coupling of the vehicles in the platoon ensures road safety. A key goal of platooning is to save fuel for the entire platoon through slipstreaming.

2018 platooning test on the A9 highway

As part of a cooperation agreement signed in May 2017, DB Schenker tested scheduled operations of truck platoons over the course of several months in 2018. Tests were conducted in real road traffic on the A9 highway between Munich and Nuremberg. This was the first time that professional DB Schenker truck drivers replaced test drivers at the wheel. The drivers' experience, assessments and evaluations of platooning are the focus of work being conducted at Fresenius University of Applied Sciences, which is the third project partner and is providing scientific support for the test runs. This scenario is a way to gain a fundamental understanding of digitalizing working conditions and could serve as a pioneer for other projects.

Regular test runs of networked trucks along the 145 kilometer route between Munich and Nuremberg began in June 2018. Test runs were carried out without any loads until early August. Starting in September 2018, the platoons were on the road every day, making up to three routine logistics trips and carrying part loads of machine parts, drinks and paper, for example. The drivers received intensive theoretical and practical instruction from specialists at MAN ProfiDrive.

Some EUR 2 million in funding for developing networked truck platoons

DB Schenker, MAN and Fresenius University of Applied Sciences received federal funding for their joint development project for networked truck platoons. The scientific platooning project was funded for 20 months, from June 2017 to January 2019. 

Einride Pod self-driving electric truck in Jönköping

The Einride Pod self-driving electric truck has been in service since May 2019 between two DB Schenker locations in Jönköping in Sweden. DB Schenker's Einride Pod is the world's first driverless, autonomously controlled truck with approval for use on public roads.

The Swedish authorities approved the test runs of the self-driving truck on public roads until the end of 2020. One hundred meters of the 300-meter-long route in an industrial zone are on public roads. Approval was conditional upon the speed being limited to walking pace of 5 km/h.

The Einride Pod is cabless. Six cameras, four radar systems and a host of infrared detectors supply a wealth of information to enable the self-driving truck to negotiate traffic safely. Two additional antennas allow the vehicle's position to be determined with an accuracy of 20 millimeters.

The absence of a cab makes for a smaller vehicle with a higher loading capacity. Seven meters in length with a laden weight of 20 metric tons, the vehicle is characterized by its flexibility, low production costs and low operating costs along with optimized energy consumption. This enables the truck to be exclusively battery-operated.

The white three-axle truck is continuously monitored and can, if necessary, be remotely controlled from a distance of up to several hundred kilometers. One operator is capable of supervising up to ten vehicles simultaneously.

In a next phase, it is planned to use the truck on longer routes between the Schenker terminals in Jönköping and Borås – a distance of over 80 km. With a range of 200 km, the route is easily manageable.

DB Schenker and start-up Einride launched their partnership in April 2018. The agreement covers pilot operation in Jönköping along with an option for further trials outside of Sweden.

Digital S-Bahn Hamburg project

Hamburg's S-Bahn system is set to begin highly automated operations in 2021, the first rail network in Germany to do so. Dr. Peter Tschentscher, Hamburg's mayor; Dr. Roland Busch, Member of the Management Board of Siemens; and Ronald Pofalla, Member of the DB Management Board for Infrastructure, signed a cooperation agreement on the Digital S-Bahn Hamburg project in July 2018. Hamburg is leading the way in digitalized operations in a German rail network.

According to the agreement, the 23 kilometer section on S-Bahn line 21 between the Berliner Tor and Bergedorf/Aumühle stations will be equipped for highly automated operation and four trains will be equipped with the necessary technology. The three partners have agreed to share the project cost of around EUR 60 million. Digital train operations will be up and running by October 2021, when Hamburg hosts the ITS World Congress for intelligent transport systems.