Peter Laier

Peter Laier

Braking system supplier, Knorr-Bremse entered the commercial vehicle steering market in 2016 when it acquired tedrive Steering Systems GmbH. Adding steering systems to its portfolio has given the supplier new opportunities to supply highly integrated systems for autonomous trucks. Earlier this year, Knorr-Bremse completed its acquisition of the commercial vehicle steering business of Hitachi Automotive Systems thereby creating a solid global basis for the subsequent introduction of torque overlay systems for automated driving (AD) functions. To learn more, we caught up with Dr Peter Laier, Member of the Executive Board of Knorr-Bremse AG, responsible for the commercial vehicle steering division.

What are the megatrends in the commercial vehicle steering industry and how could that shape the look and feel of tomorrow's steering?

At Knorr-Bremse we are seeking to develop mobility solutions of the future. So we are systematically engaging with the megatrends of the commercial vehicle steering industry. Traffic safety, emission reduction and e-mobility, connectivity and automated driving are the megatrends that are shaping our market.

Steering can be seen as one key enabler of most of these trends. Take for example automated driving. In the coming years automated driving will require intelligent systems with the ability to switch between automated steering and manual steering by the driver. If the steering fails in an automated truck, it is vital to ensure that the vehicle is still capable of manoeuvring. The functionality of the system is guaranteed by double or even triple safety modes. So in the steering systems of the future, crucial parts will need to change to meet the need for automated driving functions.

The megatrend of traffic safety is closely linked to this. We want to ensure greater traffic safety by eliminating system failures and having smart systems in the vehicle that prevent driver error. In the future, Torque Overlay Steering (TOS) is going to play a crucial role in this regard. That said, many of the enhanced safety features will only work with new steering systems, which may also change the driving experience. One future function, for example, is the combination of TOS with the lane departure warning system, making active lane-keeping possible.

We are hearing a lot about automated driving, truck platooning and the technologies that will support it. Could you tell us how you are addressing that?  

To develop highly automated driving solutions there are three levels of automation to overcome: environment recognition, automated decision-making, and trajectory planning coupled with actuation. As a systems supplier, we can offer our customers all three of the above-mentioned levels of automation as a complete system for automated driving.

Last year, we entered into a partnership with Continental AG to develop automated driving systems.

Last year, we entered into a partnership with Continental AG. Together, we are developing automated driving systems. Knorr-Bremse is responsible for the overall system integration. Just recently, Knorr-Bremse and Continental announced that we are taking a further step in our development partnership toward highly automated commercial vehicle driving in the shape of automated platooning. Here we have joined forces to develop the Platooning Demonstrator, based on a platoon of three trucks of different truck manufacturers.

The driving functions that can be developed include the formation of platoons; driving together; the emergency braking function; exiting by individual vehicles; and safe splitting up of the entire platoon. During the development work, special attention is being paid to the process for transferring control from the driver to the vehicle. 

The experience gained during development of the Platooning Demonstrator also forms the basis for addressing a further application for highly automated driving – the Highway Pilot. The aim of this is to enable highly automated driving by individual trucks on highways. An initial demonstrator is planned for next year. Starting in 2020, we will be ready to develop this technology jointly with the manufacturers.

Who else is Knorr-Bremse partnering with in the field of automation? 

Knorr-Bremse is playing a leading role in the ongoing development of automated commercial vehicles – and not just through our own products but also through strategic acquisitions, partnerships and joint ventures. In June, Knorr-Bremse TruckServices, the aftermarket brand of Knorr-Bremse Commercial Vehicle Systems and Mobileye, announced they were offering ProFleet Assist+, the new turn assistant with integrated driver assistance systems. This strategic partnership combines the proven Mobileye technology with the specific know-how of Knorr-Bremse for applications in the commercial vehicle sector. Our collaboration will allow fleets across Europe to easily equip their vehicles with one of the world's most sophisticated collision avoidance technologies.

How do you ensure that an automated 40-tonne truck doesn't go out of control if one of its digital control systems fails while it is travelling at full speed?

When the vehicle shifts into automated driving mode, everything must be designed in such a way that even if an electronic subsystem fails the vehicle remains manoeuvrable.

With our world-leading expertise in braking and steering systems, so in complete vehicle dynamics, we can also provide the statutory levels of redundancy required to ensure optimal functionality of the systems at any time – the redundant systems needed for automated driving. When the vehicle shifts into automated driving mode, everything must be designed in such a way that even if an electronic subsystem fails the vehicle remains manoeuvrable. Since simply duplicating safety-critical systems would make automated commercial vehicles relatively expensive, we have developed concepts that largely obviate the need to install two sets of identical components, while still ensuring full safety at all times. One method, for example, is the steer-by-braking system, whereby smart brakes take over from the defective steering system by braking individual wheels to ensure that the vehicle safely follows the intended path. The integrated controls of the wheel end as well as the regular system is being provided by our Truck Motion Control.

We understand that Knorr-Bremse recently acquired the commercial vehicle steering business of Hitachi Automotive Systems. In what ways will this strengthen your market position? 

Our involvement in the steering business began in 2016 and we are systematically building up a world leading position in steering systems for commercial vehicles. We recently completed the acquisition of the Commercial Vehicle Steering Systems division of Hitachi Automotive Systems in Japan and Thailand, thereby reaching a further milestone on the way to providing system solutions for driver assistance and highly automated driving. The acquisition expands Knorr-Bremse's steering system portfolio and further enhances our future potential as a global supplier of driver assistance and highly automated driving solutions. We gain additional know-how, speed up our time-to-market, and acquire a state-of-the-art production footprint for well-established and proven products. We also obtain better access to the Japanese and the Southeast Asian market and will also have the opportunity to provide additional Knorr-Bremse products in these regions.

Steer-by-wire systems have also been talked about for years. What's your view on its prospects? 

Steer-by-wire systems will become more relevant in the commercial vehicle industry.

Steer-by-wire is a topic that has been on the agenda for some time. In the future, these systems will become more relevant in the commercial vehicle industry since they leverage the redundancy infrastructure required for automated driving and provide significant packaging advantages, as they do not require a mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the wheels. The driver's steering interface includes a force feedback hand wheel and a steering torque sensor. This unit registers the driver input and transmits it electrically to the steering actuator which turns the wheels. Steer-by-wire systems offer advantages with regard to both highly automated driving and installation space. But they also require several security measures to always ensure a safe steering function. From today's perspective, there is still a long way to go before steer-by-wire, but we are already intensively developing this technology with our TOS and EPS systems as important intermediate steps.

What are the next steps for Knorr-Bremse CV steering systems?

We want to become one of the largest global steering manufacturers and become the technology leader here as we are already in many other fields we are engaged in − especially at the interfaces to the megatrends mentioned earlier. E-mobility and fuel efficiency as well as highly automated driving are of particular relevance to us. We can offer braking and steering systems and the associated system competence for automated driving from a single source. We are also working on Torque Overlay Steering and investigate the EPS systems that will be key technologies in the 2020s and 2030s.