Lead story 02/17
Tokyo at 7 a.m. in the year 2030:
Ken Yamada takes the back seat in the driverless taxi that he has just ordered and answers his emails. The electric vehicle suddenly glides into the right lane, because it knows that there is a traffic jam at the next crossing. Yamada changes to a driverless underground train at a railway station and completes the last few metres to his office on a rented e-bike. Once he has arrived, he has already completed many tasks.
This is how futurologists imagine the smart, digitally networked city in decades to come. Intelligent management systems automatically regulate the flow of traffic and driverless vehicles transport us through large cities. This new mobility saves time, resources and costs – and also provides greater safety.
Whether Google, Amazon, Baidu, Uber or DHL is involved: companies have long since recognised the potential that digital networking and mobility offer. They are motivating traditional vehicle manufacturers to make further investments in innovations. There is hardly any other technical development that has introduced such far-reaching changes as digitalisation. Mobility 4.0 is following hot on the heels of Industry 4.0 and is its logical continuation – i.e. the process of automating transport and logistics by IT services.
Many projects illustrate the importance of digital mobility within the Rhenus Group. The Public Transport business area is grappling with the question of how local public transport services will develop. “Multimodal flows of traffic will increase and there’ll be individualised transport services,” says Henrik Behrens, Managing Director of Rhenus Veniro, expressing his firmly held belief. In other words, people will travel to the station by driverless taxi, take a train into town and complete their journey on a rented bike.
First driverless Rhenus buses
Rhenus is already working on projects involving driverless shuttle systems in cities, at airports and at deep-sea ports. If things develop in line with Henrik Behrens’ ideas, the first Rhenus driverless buses will soon be making their way through Germany. The business area has been closely cooperating with manufacturers of the new technology for some months. “The vehicles are monitored by satellites and video cameras, but we can intervene at any time.”
On the road towards autonomous driving …
Partially automated: the driver has to constantly monitor the automatic functions and intervene, if necessary.
Highly automated: the automatic system informs the driver that he or she needs to take over the controls, if necessary.
Fully automated: independent, precise driving for a vehicle without any intervention by the driver. Driverless: the system is able to cope with any hazardous situations. It is no longer necessary to have a driver.
The Automotive business unit is also adapting to changing markets. “We’re reaching out to companies that manufacture electric vehicles, for example. We can already assemble complete electric cars,” says Ulrich Schorb, one of the managers of the Automotive business unit at Rhenus. Rhenus handles the complete procurement logistics from the suppliers, the assembly work and production as well as the final checks on the MT 10, an electrical vehicle made by Addax Motors in the Belgian city of Genk, for example. The electric vehicle is used for short trips during the last mile, supplies building sites or moves around at amusement parks.
The Rhenus Freight Logistics business area has also been tackling the issue of digitalisation for years. “We view ourselves as an information logistics specialist that’s already using sensible digital solutions,” Petra Finke, the CIO at Rhenus Freight Logistics, reveals. These include web-based transport management and warehouse administration systems, apps to digitally control processes or improve communications with customers – as well as a central data management platform. “This provides us with all the necessary information so that we can plan, manage and monitor global transport chains.”
From partially to fully autonomous vehicles
Rhenus is already focusing on autonomous industrial vehicles and transport robots and is preparing appropriate projects involving these vehicles. “We can supply these vehicles with information on handling items through digital networking. They then transport the pallet from the incoming goods area directly to the gate where the truck’s waiting,” Finke explains. According to estimates from the International Transport Forum, it could take between three and ten years before driverless vehicles can provide their services in cities too. The autonomous Freightliner vehicle set off on a public highway in the USA for the first time about two years ago – equipped with radar, cameras, assistance systems and adaptive cruise controls.
“Autonomous driving will certainly become a reality for trucks in Europe via the intermediate stage of partially autonomous vehicles,” says Sascha Hähnke, with a sense of conviction; he is a member of the management team of the Road division at Rhenus Port Logistics. “A driver will probably continue to sit in the cab to intervene in any emergency for the time being.”
Hähnke is already making use of the PPC (Predictive Powertrain Control) cruise control system in Daimler vehicles in his business unit; it combines the topographical data of the route with the truck’s current position via GPS. The vehicles are equipped with this anticipatory cruise control system. “If a truck can change gears on its own and the on-board systems recognise an obstacle and brake automatically, why shouldn’t a truck gradually be able to drive itself?” However, before this takes place, legal hurdles will have to be overcome. How will the courts decide who is the innocent party in unavoidable accident situations? Who is liable if an accident takes place? Data security in smart vehicles will have to be resolved too.
Greater flexibility for drivers
What benefits does (partially) autonomous driving bring at all? “If the driver does not have to intervene, he can use his time for other activities, but this will not eliminate the shortage of drivers. However, if the driver no longer has to concentrate on the traffic situation all the time, it should be possible to extend the statutory driving periods,” says Hähnke.
However, Mobility 4.0 means far more than just driverless vehicles: the optimal cargo needs to be automatically assigned to a vehicle that has adequate free capacity; this prevents empty runs and generally achieves ideal load factors. “An IT solution needs to be coupled to the existing time slot systems and it should automatically rebook a shipment if a truck is caught in a traffic jam or breaks down.”
This is already possible at the terminal operated by the Rhenus subsidiary Contargo in Basel by means of an app. The container specialist has developed the application known as STAR for scheduling times online so that trucks do not have to wait too long to be dispatched at peak periods. The system is due to be used for rail services and ships in the near future too.
vision or reality
Flying cars, unmanned ships and packages that drop out of the sky
Many companies are competing to introduce innovations to offer future mobility. We present you with some ideas here that might become reality in a few years’ time – or just remain wishful thinking.
Warehouses above the clouds
US 9.305.280 B1 is the name of the patent that the mail order company Amazon registered in April last year. It describes a flying airship (an “airborne fulfilment center”) with an integrated warehouse. Smaller airships and drones (“unmanned aerial vehicles”) could set off from the airship, if necessary, to deliver packages to customers after orders have been received. The warehouse is supposed to hover 14 kilometres above the delivery region – an inner-city area or a stadium, for example.
After getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work again or when travelling to your holiday destination, do you wish that you could fly there? That is no problem with flying cars from the Slovakian company AeroMobil. The prototype was introduced in the spring and initial deliveries are planned for 2020. In flight mode, the engine develops about 300 hp and can fly up to 750 kilometres. However, the vehicle does not come cheap: the flying car is set to cost between EUR 1.2 and 1.5 million.
Plying the world’s oceans in isolation, without a captain on board. Remote-controlled ships could become a reality by the end of this decade – at least according to the British/Finnish duo, Rolls-Royce and VTT. Using a virtual reality setting, the skipper can see everything that he would observe out at sea from his digital workstation. He or she can intervene in any emergency. There are only a few technical obstacles to overcome, according to experts. It is now important to ensure that autonomous ships are safe, reliable and cost-effective too.
Speeding through tunnels
Travelling as fast as a plane and yet it costs no more than a bus ticket. That is the promise made by the high-speed transport system known as Hyperloop. How is it supposed to work? Trans- port capsules powered by solar energy are shot through a tunnel at speeds of up to 1,125 km/h. They either carry passengers or freight. According to developers, goods could be shipped in three years from now and passengers in four years’ time.