The Year 2025

A Future Scenario: Truck driver Hannah Meier is on her way from Hamburg to Turin in a convoy of truck and trailer combinations. As long as she is in the platoon, she no longer has to drive herself. Because in 2025, not only will the technical means be there, but lawmakers will have finally put a basic legal framework in place. Hannah also benefits. During the journey, she’s working on her distance learning course, and when she arrives at her destination, she can leave her vehicle at the entrance to the logistics yard.

Like a string of pearls, a dozen trucks move south on the A7. The logo of a Hamburg freight forwarder ­emblazoned on their trailers. And something else stands out: The trucks are only 15 meters apart but in a continuous line because they are connected electronically.

Sitting in the truck’s cab, Hannah Meier is in fourth place. She’s become accustomed to driving in a tight line of trucks. Depending on the route, her truck may use seven to ten percent less fuel thanks to the benefits of aerodynamics. Not only that, she is able to do other tasks during her journey because her truck and trailer combination automatically follows the lead vehicle. She only controlled the driving from the Port of Hamburg to the A1. The electronics will take over the driving until she reaches Milan where she will leave the group to deliver her cargo in Turin.

Lawmakers have made an exception on the freeways for this system, called “platooning.” About ten years ago, a mobility study said: “The issue of liability when it comes to platooning is still unclear. No one has even considered the underlying legal framework that is necessary.” But past pilot projects have shown how much everyone involved benefits from traveling in a convoy with an electronic tow-bar. Not only do you save fuel, but the limited road space is used more efficiently. Even devastating accidents with inattentive or fatigued truck drivers crashing into traffic jams no longer occur.

Because these arguments have forced a public debate, the truck and trailer combinations of freight forwarders today are at least allowed to travel in groups on freeways. Preparations for the next level of automation are now in full swing. In Western countries, nearly one in three new vehicles is delivered with Level 4 automation technology, where drivers are still on board, but like Hannah Meier, can opt to hand over control of the vehicle for most of the journey.

On her trip to Turin, Meier is doing her homework for her distance learning course in logistics. She ­describes the way in which automated driving has taken hold in the field of freight transportation. ­Naturally, it all began with research. The first road tests took place on the A81 between the cities of Stuttgart and Singen in the 1990s. Twenty years later, commercial vehicle manufacturers and startups in the United States took advantage of the latitude offered by local laws, which allowed self-certification but at the cost of much greater risks in product liability. Once automation technology had shown what it could do in a research environment, manufacturers took this knowledge to the public roads.

Assumption

Autonomous driving will be established.
The coupling process will be automated.

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