As part of the "UR:BAN" research project, MAN developers are turning their attention to safe and efficient city driving, with focus on advanced driver assistance and traffic management systems for trucks and buses.
It is green. Off we go. But after 100 meters, the next red traffic light is waiting. The truck driven by Klaus-Dieter Habedank rolls towards the signal at 40 kilometers an hour. Then the lights turn green. Since Mr. Habedank´s truck is receiving information from the traffic lights, the vehicle is able to calculate the exact speed needed to catch the "green wave". "What a ride," says the professional truck driver. Then the trip comes to an end. Instead of looking at the road and traffic before him, Mr. Habedank is now facing a white screen – inside the MAN research facilities in Munich. Communication between traffic lights and trucks is still a long way off, but can be brought to life by a deceptively real driving simulator.
Researching for urban traffic of the future, which is safe and efficient and above all, flows freely – this was the pledge taken by MAN in tandem with thirty-one companies, universities, research institutes and cities as part of the "UR:BAN" research project. This research initiative, which is largely sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, began in 2012 and is scheduled to last for four years. The halfway mark was reached this year and initial results presented by the MAN researchers are quite impressive.
Karlheinz Dörner heads the team of developers located at the MAN site in Munich. "We are working simultaneously in the sectors of 'Networked Traffic System', 'Cognitive Assistance' and 'Human Factors in Traffic', our focus being always on the user," explains Mr. Dörner. As for instance in the case of the "Deceleration and Green Wave Assistant" - an early prototype version having just been tried out with Klaus-Dieter Habedank acting as test driver. The main target on the developers´ agenda is reducing fuel consumption. This includes avoiding unnecessary stops by predicting traffic light switching intervals and stopping points.
This task is complex, comments Andreas Zimmermann, an electrical engineer who coordinates one of the subprojects. "We let the traffic lights communicate with the vehicle via mobile devices or WiFi. Based on this exchange of data, our control units calculate the optimal driving strategy." This saves money since frequent stopping and starting often cause the high efficiency of modern commercial vehicles to fall by the wayside. Even two stops per kilometer can treble the average consumption of a fully-loaded 40-ton truck.
Key insights into this technology are gained from the simulator and during field test runs. "I live out the driving situation in the simulator almost as if it were real. This means that I can evaluate which systems makes driving easier or where they still need to be optimized," explains Klaus-Dieter Habedank.
Driver support geared to individual situations is also a key factor in the "Cognitive Assistance" sector. The aim is to give the person at the wheel an overview of the vehicle´s immediate surroundings on a monitor. To this end, the researchers are exploring different display concepts based initially on city buses. "The drivers find themselves confronted with special challenges," says Project Manager Walter Schwertberger. "These include bus stops, junctions with pedestrians and cyclists, bottlenecks, as well as oncoming traffic and lane changes." To provide a better overview, the researchers are attempting to display the surroundings from a virtual bird´s-eye view with the aid of the Bird View System. Six cameras supply pictures for 360-degree detection, these being converted into one overall picture by a computer.
Technology is however only ever as good as its practical application, whereby people always play a key role. Sonja Stockert, a post-graduate student at Munich Technical University, is working closely together with MAN on the UR:BAN subproject "Human Factors in Traffic". Her main focus is on the interaction between humans and machines. Driver Harald Rauschmayr, who is responsible for delivering trucks, is delighted to have spent several years playing a part in the simulator rides: "It´s a good feeling to be able to contribute my experience as a truck driver." The feedback from the drivers is important for MAN. "In the case of professional drivers, they themselves know best what information they need," reports Sonja Stockert. This ensures that the research retains its practical relevance – to the benefit of the people who apply its results while driving in traffic.
Images © Sorin Morar
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