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“For Level 3, a whole redundant sensor set and electronics are already needed and the driver is still in the loop. From that perspective, Level 4 and 5 are more attractive,” said Bosch's Dr. Johannes-Joerg Rueger at SAE COMVEC 17. (image: SAE International)

Level 3 automation not attractive for trucks

In his opening keynote address at SAE COMVEC 17 on Sept. 18, Dr. Johannes-Joerg Rueger, President, Commercial Vehicle and Off-Road, Robert Bosch GmbH, noted that a fully autonomous vehicle would have approximately 100 million lines of code—about six times that for the flight software of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. “Apparently [automation] is easier in the air than on the road,” he quipped. His point was clear—getting to fully autonomous commercial vehicles is an extremely complex undertaking. 

Rueger addressed a standing room-only crowd, sharing his thoughts on the trends, benefits and solutions related to advanced driver assistance (ADAS) for on-highway vehicles and automation in both on- and off-highway operations.

Is automation more important for commercial vehicles than passenger cars?

Commercial vehicles play maybe even a more important role in automation [than passenger cars]...Analyzing data from Germany, more than 50% of accidents with casualties caused by heavy-duty trucks can be avoided with technology which currently is available—functionalities like emergency braking and lane departure warning—and another almost 40% with driver-assistance functions which will come to market in the next couple of years. [In addition to] addressing road safety, no accidents means uptime...For passenger cars it's a question of convenience; it's nice if you don't need to have your hands on the steering wheel and have leeway to do something else. But the money lies in the commercial vehicle sector. If a truck could eventually go from A to B safely without any driver, it would address road safety on the one hand and the driver shortage on the other, and particularly driver costs and logistic costs in total. So we are talking about [SAE] Level 4 and Level 5 automation, where you really have autonomous trucks. It's a big idea so it's going to take some time. For Level 3 a whole redundant sensor set and electronics are already needed; if then the driver is still in the loop, the benefit is limited and the costs are almost the same. From that perspective, Level 4 and 5 are more attractive and need to be addressed long term.

What is Bosch doing in this area?

We're a well-known supplier of driver-assistance and automation technologies in the passenger car sector, but until about two years back we didn't address commercial vehicle properly, I have to admit, and we changed that with a new organization that I'm heading. We are adapting the same functionalities to commercial vehicles...[With advanced systems], we need to be very careful that whatever is being introduced is properly tested and really works; the complexity of the software algorithms we're talking about here is really huge—that indicates that testing will take some time. If you really want to go autonomously, you need to have a redundant data sensor set and you need to have sensor data fusion, not just in the front but all around the vehicle. If you calculate the number of sensors [shown on a Bosch graphic], it's 24 different sensors for front, rear, left and right observation of the truck's surroundings, and that's even without the trailer which would need sensors there as well. So that is a significant investment. The benefit must be appropriate. If you go logically, you introduce Level 1 functionalities, then Level 2, Level 3 and then later on Level 4 and 5. But if the step to investment for Level 3 is already really significant [for the redundant layer, and the driver is still in the loop], you need to look at the benefits and whether those outweigh the costs associated with the automation.

What does the future E/E architecture look like?

Electronics is the backbone for the whole functionality. Clearly we need to think about how the structure of the electronics will look, and to build the whole architecture towards what is needed in, say, 7 to 8 years from now. If everybody develops his own little functionality by himself, and does not think about the big picture [but only] what's needed for the next 2 or 3 years, it probably will need to be thrown away in 3 years and be redeveloped. Nobody can afford that with the volumes we have. Even for passenger car, that's not really a good idea; for commercial vehicles, certainly not. It is essential to think now about the E/E architecture of the future. That's the reason why we've put a lot of effort into understanding what is needed and doing studies with our customers to come to a common understanding…In general, I'm not a big fan of proprietary systems and a closed architecture. I’m a fan of an architecture which is open in a way that gives the possibility of different parties to develop their specific content. Given the complexity we are talking about, I believe it’s the only option.

What about retrofit solutions for automated vehicles?

There are retrofit solutions in the market. If you look at the complexity, I’ve talked about sensor set but you need actuators—brakes and steering, basically—to act as well, it's a combination, and you need electrified steering to have an influence on the steering wheel. We’ve tried to indicate for which solutions, in theory at least, retrofit could be a possibility. Certainly not for Level 5 because then you have the whole sensor set—the 24 sensors [surrounding the truck]—and electric steering, and that's nothing you want to retrofit on a truck. Retrofit solutions might be a possibility for the lower-level functionalities and maybe for Level 1 platooning, but certainly not for the real autonomous driving solutions, which have a bigger impact on efficiency and safety.

What's happening on the off-road side?

Not surprisingly, the same automation principles and technologies apply for off-road operations as for on-road, because it's always about visualization of the environment, classification of objects, reactions to those obstacles, and automation, which is the distinguishing factor. When we talk about off-road operations, it is typically not just the driving which is automated but the operation of the machine itself, and potentially that's even more important. The same basic sensor set, which is camera-based, radar-based, maybe ultrasonic depending on the application, can be applied to off-road operations. Maybe for a forklift truck, sensors can be stitched together so you have a top view and the operator can easily see what's around him even if he's carrying a large good and can't really see what's in front of him.

Any other off-road applications ripe for automation?

GPS-steered tractors or harvesters—that's nothing new, they are in the market. GPS-steer doesn't control the surroundings though, so if there's an unexpected obstacle, you still need sensors to detect that. What we are working on is to reduce herbicides and pesticides use, and that is not just because we want to do something for the environment, it is a huge cost factor as well. The technology here is the use of cameras, and remember it's all about visualization and obstacle detection—in this case, wheat recognition—and maybe you can even classify what kind of wheat. When you pass over the wheat, the sprayer nozzles are in the right place and you are in a position to spray only in spots where we have detected wheat and only that kind of herbicide which is for that wheat variety. If you can do that, you can reduce costs for herbicide use by approximately 30-40%. That's really significant. Another example in earthmoving is assisted control of an excavator boom. High-priced systems are in the market already, so the target here would be to bring it on a broader scale for more affordable prices. So assistance of not just driving the machine but also of the operations is a huge topic and of course has a wide variety of different solutions.

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