Get out of the truck, driver
Manoeuvring a rig with the tip of your finger soon will be a reality
GERMAN component manufacturers ZF and Bosch have revealed a joint project, the remote-controlled Innovation Truck.
This 25-metre-long combination looks like any other but its cutting edge components include a feature that allows the driver to control it from the outside.
The new technology is not designed for high-speed driving but is aimed at helping drivers picking up or delivering a load.
Reversing a single or double trailer is not an easy task for any but the most experienced drivers and the two companies aim to help.
“The manoeuvring assistant in the Innovation Truck completely relieves the driver of this steering work and much more,” says ZF project manager Olrik Weinmann.
“They can get out and move the tractor-trailer to the exact position required with only small finger movements and using a special tablet app.”
Steering the truck remotely is made easier thanks to the use of ZF’s Servotwin steering, which normally uses hydraulic steering, assisted by an electric motor mounted on the steering column that also filters out jolts and tugs drivers normally feel.
Volvo has a similar setup in its FM and FH trucks in Australia, although it can’t be operated remotely.
ZF fits the Servotwin with an additional control module for remote steering. An electrohydraulic pump allows the truck to be steered without taking power from the diesel engine.
This was an important part of the Innovation Truck design, as ZF and Bosch wanted it to be able to operate at low speeds while producing no emissions.
ZF fitted the truck with the hybrid version of its TraXon automatic. An electric motor (120kW/1000Nm) in the bell housing propels the truck in full electric mode at low speed.
ZF says there is enough juice in the battery to complete several low-speed manoeuvres in the electric mode. It cites the dual advantages in depots and public spaces — no local exhaust emissions and no engine noise.
At the heart of the Innovation Truck is a complex control arrangement that uses low-energy Bluetooth tags fitted to the back of the cab and the trailer.
These have a range of 25m and connect with sensors to give the central control unit the exact position of the truck and trailer.
The driver’s app shows an overhead outline of the truck and trailer and he steers the truck by sliding a finger in the intended direction of travel — if the finger is not touching the screen, the truck will stop.
Speeds vary from 1km/h to 4km/h for forward driving and 0.5km/h to 2km/h for reversing.
The clever app also allows the driver to view how much charge remains in the battery.
Australia already has experience with trucks that can be controlled remotely.
Komatsu has dump trucks that can operate fully autonomously for much of the time at mine sites. A remote human operator directs where they pick up and drop loads.
Handy: Drivers can park the ZF Innovation Truck remotely from a handheld app; (below) Komatsu’s “ultra-class” dump trucks work autonomously in Australian mines