Europe´s roads are busy and getting busier. That’s the verdict of a European Commission study
which estimates that by 2050 the volume of freight traffic on roads in the European Union will have risen by 50%. It is an increase that will have significant economic, ecological, and societal impact as more and more large vehicles jostle for space on already frequently congested city streets and highways.
A two-year research project led by Professor Asvin Goel and funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) aims to develop models and methods to help transport service providers tackle these challenges.
A lot of work has been done on time-dependent vehicle routing (planning that factors in optimal times for routes to be driven to avoid periods of high traffic) in the past, explains Goel, who has worked in the field of vehicle routing for over 15 years. What sets his project, titled Time Dependent Routing of Renewable Resources, apart he says, “is that in this project, we are also considering regenerable resources.”
“Take electric vehicles, which are increasingly used for freight transport. The vehicle’s battery runs out and you have to recharge it before you can start again. It takes time to make the resource available again, so it’s better to recharge during rush hour instead of further draining the battery while progressing slowly on congested roads. After recharging, the traffic may have cleared up and you can efficiently continue on your route with a fully loaded battery. This is one application where managing regenerable resources in the presence of time-dependent travel times is useful.”
Another one is the compliance with hours of service regulations: Currently, truck drivers in Europe must take a mininum 45-minute break every 4.5 hours they drive and are only allowed to be on the road for nine hours in total before they are required to rest for the next eleven hours. This driving time includes periods stuck in traffic jams.
“Like a battery, drivers ‘degrade’ as well,” says Goel. “They get tired and can’t drive anymore. If you have to take a break anyway, why not try to match up your break schedule with the traffic situation so one problem solves the other. It’s good for drivers; it’s good for society; it’s good for everyone.
“That is essentially the new contribution of this project. We are developing algorithms that let you optimize vehicle routes, taking into account that traffic situations change and that your resources have to somehow be regenerated after a while, be it the hours of service regulations or the battery.”
The project also has a number of logical possible extensions, including helping with planning so that drivers can book charging stations ahead of time. Another is the installation of electrified overhead lines so that trucks can charge their batteries while in operation. This technology is currently being tested by Siemens, and, like Goel’s project, it is a positive step towards tackling the increased pressure being exerted on our roads and truck drivers.
Learn more about the TDR³ project