The future of freight transport: MAN and HHLA pioneer Logistics 4.0 with the autonomous Hamburg TruckPilot

MAN Truck & Bus and Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) as well as logistics partner Spedition Jakob Weets have successfully completed the Hamburg TruckPilot joint project, setting a milestone in automated container transport. In the presence of Jakob Weets, Managing Director and owner of Spedition Jakob Weets, HHLA Executive Board Chairwoman Angela Titzrath and MAN Truck & Bus Senior Vice President – Head of Automation Mikael Edstam presented the project results at the ITS World Congress on 13 October (from left to right).

  • With Hamburg TruckPilot, MAN Truck & Bus and Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG have set an important milestone for the use of self-driving trucks in port terminals
  • Results of the Hamburg TruckPilot project to be presented at the ITS World Congress 2021
  • Hamburg TruckPilot is an important step on the way to autonomous hub-to-hub transport
  • The new law on autonomous driving in Germany creates the legal requirements for future hub-to-hub applications as an important component of Logistics 4.0

“Pilot projects like Hamburg TruckPilot prove that the use of self-driving trucks is technologically feasible and can be efficiently integrated into logistics processes. Autonomous driving will be a game changer in transportation. In close cooperation with customers and partners, we are testing practical automation solutions with the aim of getting self-driving trucks ready for series production from 2030″, says Dr. Frederik Zohm, MAN Board Member for Research and Development, on the project results that MAN Truck & Bus presented together with HHLA at the ITS World Congress 2021 on October 13 in Hamburg.

HHLA CEO Angela Titzrath emphasized at the press conference that the cooperation with MAN is an important and necessary step in shaping the future of freight transport: “Autonomous driving is coming! We at HHLA are preparing for this. Logistics 4.0 offers opportunities on a global scale. To use them, we have to be open to change and show the courage to change. Autonomous driving and Hamburg TruckPilot are good examples of transformative processes that we want to actively shape. ”

Hamburg TruckPilot: pioneering work through cooperation

MAN Truck & Bus and Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG successfully completed the “Hamburg TruckPilot” project in summer 2021. The objective of the three-year project, which was also part of the strategic mobility partnership between the City of Hamburg and Volkswagen AG, included the development and practical testing of an autonomous truck in container handling at the HHLA Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA). During the practical trips, the logistics partner, Spedition Jakob Weets e.K. from Emden, first transported 40-foot containers controlled by a driver on behalf of Volkswagen Group Logistics to the CTA terminal in the Port of Hamburg. There, the truck drove autonomously across the terminal area and moved smoothly in mixed traffic with other road users. It drove to its destination in the block storage lane and also manoeuvred itself backwards with high precision into the parking position. After container handling, the return journey to the check gate was just as autonomous, and beyond the terminal grounds, the driver of the Jakob Weets e.K. haulage company once again took full command.

Till Schlumberger, project manager at HHLA responsible for Hamburg TruckPilot, made it clear what a pioneering technological achievement the successful test run was: “With its highly automated processes, HHLA Container Terminal Altenwerder is the ideal test environment for trying out promising technologies. Our facilities operate 24/7 around the clock, 360 days a year. However, the safe integration of autonomous trucks into the terminal processes is a major challenge, because autonomous and classic transports are intermingled. With Hamburg TruckPilot, we were able to show that this application is possible and promising in practice.”

Sebastian Völl, Project Manager Hamburg TruckPilot at MAN Truck & Bus, is very satisfied with the results of the practical tests in the Port of Hamburg, “Hamburg TruckPilot was an important milestone for us on the road to autonomous driving. When our prototype manoeuvred independently into a block storage lane for the first time, we saw that it worked and that we can meet the high accuracy requirements. And even driving across the terminal site with many other manually controlled trucks, sensor technology, environment detection and automation systems have mastered the interaction perfectly. When the first container with a real load lifted off the chassis during the practical drives, I was super proud of the entire team! We can build on this experience for future projects.”

Likewise, with a view to autonomous driving between different logistics hubs in hub-to-hub traffic, the partners already collected valuable data on the manual feeder trips on the A7 between the Weets Container Terminal Soltau and the port area 70 kilometres away. Further-reaching projects with practical drives on public roads will also benefit from this. Such practical tests, which are always accompanied by safety drivers, will also be possible outside closed areas thanks to the law on autonomous driving in Germany.

Germany as a driver of innovation

In July 2021, the Federal Republic of Germany became the first country ever to pass a law on autonomous driving. This regulates and generally permits the use of autonomous vehicles (Level 4) in defined operational areas, such as traffic between logistics terminals. A technical supervisor must also monitor the journeys.

For freight transport, autonomous trucks bring a whole range of advantages. They have the potential to make transport more efficient, cost-effective, reliable, sustainable and, above all, safer. For Container Logistics 4.0 and Industry 4.0, self-driving trucks represent an important element. They are also a solution to the driver shortage that is increasingly causing problems for many transport companies.

Outlook into the future of freight transport

In order to drive automation forward, MAN plans to successively launch further cooperation projects for the development of autonomous hub-to-hub transport. From the middle of the decade, initial application tests of self-driving MAN trucks integrated into the operating processes of customer companies are conceivable. The goal is to be able to realise autonomously driving trucks as series solutions from 2030 onwards. Combined with emission-free drives, these not only have the potential to increase the safety and efficiency of logistics, but also to make an important contribution to CO2-minimised freight transport.