THE INITIAL SITUATION
International flows of goods are increasing sharply due to growth in e-commerce and globally networked supply chains. The logistics value chain is almost seamlessly interlinked globally - there is high pressure for efficiency. The current rampant driver shortage is a symptom of this. In the medium term, these problems can only be solved with a higher degree of automation. But while a high degree of automation has already been achieved indoors in rack warehouses with standard processes, this efficiency breaks down at the loading bay. Diesel trucks drive with human drivers, inefficiencies arise and processes remain manual.
As a leading logistics service provider, DB Schenker is therefore exploring concrete possibilities for automation within its yards. However, initial tests of fully autonomous vehicles have shown that this technology is still far from being ready for series production. Autonomous vehicles also require an adjustment of closely timed processes, while at the same time the flow of goods and "bilateral operations" with manual trucks must be maintained for years until full automation is achieved. Thus, a timely and smooth integration of fully autonomous vehicles in these complex environments into today's logistics value chain is not yet conceivable.
The Munich-based company Fernride offers a solution with its teleoperation platform. The platform (including the underlying technology, AI and hardware stacks) and accompanying integration services enable the gradual introduction of driverless processes in logistics. For this purpose, the human intelligence of a so-called teleoperator is linked with a semi-autonomous vehicle. In this way, driverless transports can be carried out by means of teleoperation from a remote TO center without changing or destabilizing existing processes.
The Ulm-based company KAMAG is a manufacturer of heavy-duty and special vehicles and a leader in the logistics industry with its "Wiesel" swap body lift truck. Wiesel" customers include well-known logistics companies, mail order companies, various postal and industrial companies as well as numerous CEP companies (courier, express, parcel services). DB Schenker is a long-standing partner of KAMAG and has been successfully using the electric swap body lift truck "E-Wiesel" for years.
Legislation does not yet permit autonomous driving on public roads. However, such driving can be carried out on enclosed company premises if safety is guaranteed. The German government's law on autonomous driving, which was just passed in June, for the first time allows vehicles to drive autonomously in defined operating areas if a so-called technical supervisor can deactivate the motor vehicle or release alternative driving maneuvers at any time. This has created the legal framework for the transportation of the future.
This technical supervisor can be a teleoperator. What autonomous driving still lacks in efficiency today, teleoperation can make up for, e.g., by improving driver utilization - this technological proof was provided by the present pilot project.
Back in June 2020, DB Schenker and Fernride launched a pilot project based on teleoperation together with the special vehicle manufacturer KAMAG. This was intended as a first step towards driverless "shunting", i.e. the transfer of swap bodies. After upgrading a drive-by-wire-capable e-truck (KAMAG E-Wiesel) and initial test runs, the test could be transferred to DB Schenker's live yard operations as a driverless process - with success. The technical feasibility of teleoperated shunting and transfer of swap bodies was proven.
Before starting the project, Fernride analyzed the network density and capacity at DB Schenker's loading yard. As sufficiently strong LTE coverage was found throughout the premises, a permanent and stable connection between operator and vehicle was assured.
Likewise before the launch, the existing logistics processes were precisely analyzed and mapped. They formed the basis for the trouble-free integration of the driverless vehicle. They were also part of the dedicated training of the teleoperators for this application.
In Fernride's first teleoperation center in Europe, the teleoperators were specifically trained using simulation so that they could immediately act safely and efficiently in the field. This is done - similar to the training of pilots - by simulated teleoperation of a vehicle and instruction in teleoperation technology at their workplace. At the test site, this knowledge is refined with the real vehicle.
The prototype received a sensor and camera kit specially designed for moving swap bodies. In addition, it was equipped with Fernride's teleoperation stack and networked with the vehicle control system via a defined interface. The interaction of these modules was tested and optimized in several integration steps.
Via Fernride's secure and ultra-fast data line ("uRLLC", ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications), camera images of the vehicle environment could be transmitted in real time to Fernride's teleoperation platform via the LTE network. The images reached a driver's seat outside the vehicle, modeled after a vehicle cockpit.
This teleoperator was thus able to send targeted driving commands to the vehicle from his or her computer workstation, also in real time, using the accelerator pedal, brake, steering wheel and joystick. During the pilot phase, there was also a safety driver in the vehicle, but he did not have to become active at any time.
With this upgrade to a semi-autonomous vehicle, the prototype can be controlled and driven safely at any time by a human teleoperator outside the vehicle.
By piloting Fernride's teleoperation solution under real-life conditions in a busy and operative logistics yard, the project partners were able to prove the following hypotheses:
1. driverless processes can already be mapped in real-world operations without interference - Fernride's teleoperation platform combines human control capabilities with the possibilities of the latest sensor, video and communication technology. A driverless vehicle could already be integrated into existing process chains in the near future.
2. driverless processes can be carried out safely - the teleoperator has access to additional sensors and, thanks to the camera images, an extended field of vision. This additional information supports him at any time at least as well as a conventional truck driver. Real-time intervention is possible at any time, but was not necessary in the pilot operation.
3. teleoperated vehicles can dock and maneuver with high precision - teleoperation is in no way inferior to today's manual - driver-operated processes in terms of precision thanks to comprehensive sensor data, additional maneuver aids via screen and ultra-fast data transfers (uRLLC).
Following the successful test deployment of teleoperation technology, the next step is to refine and prove the integration of the driverless process in real operations and, if necessary, several loading yards. This would be an important step on the road to autonomous logistics: in the medium term, the use of teleoperation will significantly increase vehicle utilization, for example by eliminating idling during loading cycles. The technology has enormous cost advantages and can be scaled up quickly as needed, thus ensuring process stability even during peak times and addressing the acute driver shortage in the logistics industry.
Sebastian Schumann, Head of Innovation Portfolio
"Teleoperation is a first step towards our goal of keeping our yards fit for the future and gradually automating them. We can very well imagine that this technology will become an important part of our strategy. We are impressed by what teleoperation can already achieve today. In this project, Fernride has demonstrated how far the technology has already come."
Hendrik Kramer, Co-Founder & CEO of Fernride.
"Together with DB Schenker and KAMAG, we have demonstrated that our teleoperation platform can implement driverless swap bodies under real conditions. We were able to prove all our core hypotheses: teleoperation is safe, precise, performant - and already possible today. These are critical experiences on the application possibilities of autonomous vehicles that we have gathered here. This gives our customers like DB Schenker an excellent starting position in the highly competitive market for autonomous logistics."
Dirk Jahn, Managing Director of KAMAG GmbH & Co KG:
"With this pilot project, we are demonstrating the possibilities that exist for logistics yards. We are pleased that KAMAG was able to test this prototype in real operation with its long-standing customer DB Schenker. The valuable experience will support us in the further development of automated electric vehicles."
Fernride is the leading platform for driverless logistics processes. The Munich-based startup's driverless transportation-as-a-service (TaaS) offering combines the efficiency and safety benefits of autonomous vehicles with the capabilities of human teleoperators to close the gap to fully autonomous transportation of the future. Fernride works with world-leading logistics companies, specialty vehicle and truck manufacturers on research and pilot projects. Fernride's TaaS offering enables them to profitably and safely automate key parts of the logistics value chain and deliver driverless transportation today.
ABOUT DB SCHENKER
DB Schenker is the world's leading provider of global logistics services. Through land transportation, worldwide air and ocean freight, contract logistics and supply chain management, industry and trade are supported in the global exchange of goods. Its value-added services ensure seamless flows of goods and lean, optimized supply chains. The company has top positions in automotive, technology, consumer goods, trade show forwarding, special transportation and services for major sporting events and employs 74,100 people at 2,100 locations.
ABOUT KAMAG TRANSPORTTECHNIK
Transporters from KAMAG stand for top technology and special product quality worldwide. Reliability in daily use, high load capacity and a long service life make the vehicles an important part of modern logistics operations. With the "Wiesel" swap body lift truck, KAMAG is the world market leader in the logistics sector. The company belongs to the "TII -Transporter Industry International" group of companies. The TII Group focuses on product quality and innovations for the future of heavy-duty mobility. In addition to locations in Germany, France and India, the group has a global sales and service organization.