The future of combined transport is digital: autonomous vehicles at terminals are the first step

The ANITA project launched on 1 July 2020 to explore autonomous innovation in terminal systems in an effort to automate transhipment between different modes of transport.The project is developing a fully automated heavy goods vehicle (HGV), which will be tested in real-life logistics operations at the DUSS terminal in Ulm.

Combined transport connects the road, rails and sea, and it's one of the fastest-growing markets in the freight transport industry. The ANITA project is another important step on the path toward automating the transport process from start to finish. This technology will ultimately create greater flexibility for dispatching vehicles and scheduling drivers.

The project partners are MAN Truck & Bus SE, Deutsche Bahn AG, Götting KG and Fresenius University of Applied Sciences. ANITA is receiving EUR 5.5 million in funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy's new vehicle and system technologies programme and will run for 39 months.

The project will test the fully automated HGV at the Ulm Dornstadt location. The HGV will drive itself between the DB Intermodal Services container depot and DUSS terminal. A back-up driver from MAN will remain behind the wheel at all times while tests are being conducted. The project's first step is to set up the digital infrastructure with all of the necessary interfaces on site. Experienced crane operators will tranship containers so operations can be tested under real-life conditions.

According to Dr Sigrid Nikutta, Member of the DB Management Board for Freight Transport, "Combined transport is key to decarbonising transport. Our transhipment terminals give our customers access to the rails, which is why we need to provide them with efficient, innovative systems. Container transhipment must be faster and more flexible. We'll leverage digitalisation to make that happen, as we are doing in the ANITA project. Using self-driving HGVs at terminals is the first important step toward upgrading to terminal 4.0."

MAN Truck & Bus SE is developing the vehicle which will be used in the project. "Working with our partners, we will gain valuable experience using self-driving vehicles in container transhipment on terminal grounds. We've successfully completed a platooning project with DB Schenker AG and Fresenius University of Applied Sciences, and ANITA is the next big step toward using autonomous transport in hub-to-hub applications – another milestone on our MAN automation roadmap," says Dr Frederik Zohm, the member of the MAN Truck & Bus management board for research and development.

Götting KG will develop algorithms to provide location services and obstacle detection for the HGV. According to Hans-Heinrich Götting, CEO of Götting KG, "The ANITA project will take our sense of how full automation works in a real-life environment to a new level. Cooperating with major partners in this setting is crucial for Götting KG."

In order to ensure the HGV can reliably communicate with the terminal and the container depot, the project will first analyse the behaviours of people and machines at the terminal so they can later be converted into digital processes and rulesets. Fresenius University of Applied Sciences is handling this task. "For us, analysing processes in complex systems is a matter of tradition," says Dr Christian T. Haas, professor and director of the Institute for Complex System Research at the university. "This project poses a particular challenge. Not only do we need to understand the system behaviour; we also need to translate it into a digital model which machines can work with. Our number one priority is safety, but performance aspects are also essential for the roll-out process."