MobileTronics trackless trains complete world first driverless TBM transport

MobileTronics, together with the joint venture partners STRABAG and Salini Impregilo, has successfully demonstrated the world’s first completely autonomous transportation of a tunnel boring machine (TBM) using trackless VirtuRail® trains.

The demonstration took place on the construction site ‘Ahrental’ of the Brenner Base Tunnel project, close to Innsbruck, Austria.

On this site, the supply of the TBM was realised by trackless trains. These rubber tyred, about 60-m long trains consist of five single cars and enable continuous transport from the loading area to the TBM, via a 2.5-km long access tunnel set at a decline of close to 12%.

MobileTronics says: “This innovative way of transport does not need the installation and maintenance of the steel rail network. At the same time, the roadways can be used for regular cars used by the underground staff.”

MobileTronics’ VirtuRail System steers all 18 axles electronically, allowing precision handling where all axles follow the first in line. An additional driver assistance system guides the first axle automatically in the tunnel and is also used for obstacle detection. This system can guide the train around a 90°curve on 30 m radius at the end of the access tunnel.

The docking of the train inside the TBM backup is also performed automatically; under regular operation, the driver only controls the speed.

Since May 2016, these trains have accumulated more than 200,000 km without a single significant issue, according to the company, adding that this technology played an important role in the TBM achieving an advance world record of 62 m over 24 hours on May 14, 2017.

To carry out the fully autonomous drive, the on-train electronics were supplemented by electronic ‘traffic signs’ in the tunnel. The train uses these to read its position and set the driving parameters for the next section.

Another successfully implemented challenge was the passing of oncoming traffic and the interaction with other vehicles driving in the access tunnel. This demonstration, prepared with STRABAG/Salini Impregilo, was carried out on December 3 and showed the full potential of autonomous operation in an environment not exclusively populated by autonomous vehicles, MobileTronics said. “Thereby, it has been proven that a fully driverless operation is possible using the VirtuRail technology.”

In the future, material logistics, especially on construction sites with several TBMs, can be remotely supervised from a central control room. “This makes VirtuRail an important future component to improve cost efficiency and safety of tunnelling operations,” MobileTronics said.

“Also, in mining, VirtuRail has the potential to improve underground transport: by performing the mass transport in a flexible way on the production level a separate transport level for rail bound mass transport may become obsolete.”

MobileTronics, together with its Polish sister company, MT-Silesia, in Wroclaw, specialise in electronic guidance and navigation of mobile equipment in safety critical environments.