Project ANITA

Realizing fully autonomously driving trucks on a container and train terminal in Germany

With over 820,000 employees at manufacturers and suppliers (as of 2017), the automotive industry plays a key economic and social role in Germany. The commercial vehicle industry is an important branch of the economy with around 180,000 direct employees.

There are several technologies that will have a significant impact on the world of today and tomorrow. As a matter of fact, automated driving represents one of the key technologies in the automotive industry. In order to secure Germany’s fundamental technology leadership in the automotive sector, considerable investments in research and development are essential. The changing requirements for products and services require an even stronger customer focus and the embedding of automated vehicles in the ecosystem of their users and, in the future, in a fully networked Industry 4.0. 

The research project ANITA (“Autonomous innovation in terminal operations”) is about implementing technologies for realizing the vision of fully autonomously driving trucks on a container and train terminal in Ulm, Germany. Therefore, the federal ministry of economics and energy in Germany has publicly funded the ANITA project. The project committee consists of Deutsche Bahn, MAN, Götting and Hochschule Fresenius in cooperation with Deon Digital.

An essential part of the project is to successfully integrate autonomous vehicles into the terminal infrastructure in order to be able to operate efficiently and safely. Thus, Hochschule Fresenius has selected Deon Digital for building software that is intended to serve as a digital infrastructure for enabling the digital exchange of transactions (e.g. documents, data, etc.) and for the automatic execution of contractual obligations. 

Deon Digital has the competence to translate contractual processes into software, transforming contracts into machine processable form. This empowers multiple user networks – distributed ledger technology, blockchain or central user networks to collaborate securely and efficiently. Deon Digital enables complex, high-volume transactions to scale. We provide legally resilient, mathematically verifiable applications. 

In ANITA, Deon Digital  and Hochschule Fresenius have analysed together the behaviour and structures of different transport and logistic systems. Hochschule Fresenius develops the mission planning structure for the truck. Deon Digital transfers this structure to software code by using the contract specification language. 

Logistic processes between truck and terminals are still intensely paper-based and require a lot of manual effort

Today, the logistics processes within a company are IT-supported and partly digitalised, whereby an external truck that delivers or collects load units is usually an exception. Thus, most of the current processes between the truck and the terminals contain several manual actions and an intensive paper-based exchange of documents (e.g. delivery notice, sending notice, etc.). Therefore, the project envisions establishing an end-to-end digitization between the autonomous truck and the terminal systems. 

As is, current logistics systems are characterized by a large number and great diversity regarding the following items:

  • Interfaces,
  • Data logic,
  • Information (in) transparency,
  • Real-time capability (delays),
  • Redundant validity checks

The frequent transfers between analog and digital information implies a risk of systematic malfunction and several slow processes. With the current setup, the integration of modern systems from autonomous trucks would be very time consuming and non efficient. 

With Deon Digital technology trucks are empowered to communicate end-to-end digitally with the IT system of the terminal and the depot

The aim is to close the gap between the autonomously driving truck and manual processes. In ANITA, the truck is empowered to communicate digitally with the IT systems of the terminal or depot via the interfaces provided by Deon Digital. The vision is to establish an ecosystem for digitally managing these processes between the partners of the logistics chain. 

From a business perspective, our solutions have the following benefits:

  1. Productivity gains due to the digitization of physical paper-based documents.
  2. Process optimization due to reduced routes that the autonomously driving truck has to take because of intelligent data analysis.
  3. Cost reduction because less human labour (drivers) is needed.
  4. Increase in business intelligence methods because forecasts for the arrival of trucks can be taken.
  5. The solution can be scaled to all other container and train terminals in future where (non) autonomous trucks are driving. 

From a technical point of view, our core technology (Contract Specification Language) brings the following added value to the ANITA project:

CSL is a language for specifying contracts. A contract can be viewed as a specification of an interaction between a number of parties. We represent the interaction as a contract describing allowed traces of events. Such interactions, when implemented in software stacks, are usually encoded in a general-purpose programming language like Java or C#. This makes it difficult and error-prone to reason about the processes, as any sort of behaviour can be encoded in the program besides the process itself. 

By using CSL, we get a separation between the modelling of the processes itself (e.g. driving job, mission planning, etc.) and the implementation of the system (e.g. message broker, interfaces to the systems of DB and MAN, etc.). The separation of the elements heavily increases the security and the stability of the system because processes can be more easily analyzed, audited and accessed by domain experts. 

The CSL runtime is then used in the application, alongside message queue systems, log systems, etc., to guarantee that what is happening between the agents always conforms to the contract. This gives a number of benefits compared to a traditional approach:

  • Analyzability: We can perform analyses on the CSL runtime, for example by querying for the set of possible next events that are allowed to happen. This could be used to inform an autonomous truck of its current state and possible next options.
  • Auditability: All events that pertain to the contract are stored in a tamper-proof ledger which also serves as an audit trail.
  • Accessibility: The interaction between parties is encoded in a domain-specific language and not a general-purpose programming language, which makes it more accessible for domain experts that are not necessarily software developers.

Overall, the technology of Deon Digital is a key piece for integrating autonomous vehicles into the terminal infrastructure to ensure at any time a safe and efficient operation. Today and in future, we are keen on improving Germany’s fundamental technology leadership in the automotive sector.

Author: Anselm Pilz (Business Engineer, Deon Digital AG), Prof. Dr. phil. habil. Christian T. Haas (Professor, Hochschule Fresenius)