November 29, 2017

Automation and networking in freight transport - effects on the logistics industry

  • A study by DLR and the Hamburg University of Technology is examining the use of digitalisation for added value in freight transport
  • For example, in the future, it may be possible to combine several HGVs to form virtual goods trains
  • Focus: Digitalisation, mobility, goods transport

The automation and networking of transport will bring changes to the logistics industry. In the ATLaS project (Automated and networked movement in Logistics – opportunities for greater added value), scientists from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) are investigating how these changes will affect freight transport. The aim of the project is to discover the changes that await freight transport and the best way to support the introduction of important technologies. ATLaS is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI).

The following issues will be examined within the scope of the project: What are the expectations of logistics-industry stakeholders – from haulage companies to the large logistics companies – regarding networked and automated transport in the transportation of goods by road? Which conditions are required for the sensible implementation of new technologies in the industry? "Technological developments towards automated driving are advancing very quickly, driven by technology manufacturers. With the ATLaS project we are now for the first time including stakeholders from the logistics industry in the development process," says Stephan Müller, who manages the work of the DLR Institute of Transport Research in the ATLaS research project, which forms the starting point of the project.

New logistics structures through automatic freight trains on motorways

In the ATLaS project, scientists are investigating how automation and networked systems can make the logistics industry more efficient and more service oriented. Müller continued: "The logistics companies will only use new technologies if these can lower their costs, increase process efficiency and generate new logistics business models using added-value services." One example of the use of new technologies is the automated and connected driving of HGVs on motorways, which can be linked to form 'freight trains', so-called platooning. In doing so, only one driver would be needed to actually control the 'freight train'. As the personnel costs of the driver are about one third of the total transport costs, a clear increase in transport efficiency would be possible through the electronic coupling of several HGVs. Even under today's technical and legal framework conditions, the other drivers could hand over the majority of the driving tasks to the automation technology and carry out other tasks or take a break. "Although such new transport capacities would have to be planned in advance, the use of HGVs in freight trains would be possible across Europe 24 hours a day, seven days a week (24/7). As a result, logistic networks can easily be reimagined, which would make the supply of production companies more flexible, and direct transportation could replace complex warehouse structures," says Gernot Liedtke, Manager of the Commercial Transport Department at the DLR Institute of Transport Research, describing the possible benefits of partial automation in the logistics industry.

Demand-oriented innovations

During the project, researchers will carry out individual interviews with stakeholders from the logistics industry. Using simulations and model calculations, they will then examine which innovations are significant for the logistics industry and how they can be profitably incorporated into existing logistics structures. The effects of possible innovations on inner-city transport and on air quality will also be included in this work. Thus, the project will create a broad information base to set the correct framework conditions for the freight transport of the future.

Under the leadership of Heike Flämig, the TUHH and DLR are part of a project consortium that is working on ATLaS and is supported by LogistikNetz Berlin-Brandenburg e.V. and the Dronemasters Future Mobility Initiative as subcontractors.

More information on the project can be found Atlas - Automatisiertes und vernetztes Fahren.


Dorothee Bürkle

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Media Relations, Energy and Transport Research

Dr. Ing. Stephan Müller

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Institute of Transport Research
DLR Institute of Transport Research
Rutherfordstraße 2, 12489 Berlin

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Heike Flämig

Institute for Transport Planning and Logistics
Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH)
Institute for Transport Planning and Logistics
Am Schwarzenberg-Campus 3, 21073 Hamburg