MobileTronics Demonstrates Autonomous TBM Supply Vehicle

Together with the joint venture STRABAG (Technical leader)/Salini Impregilo, MobileTronics successfully demonstrated the world‘s first completely autonomous supply 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 in Austria.

On this construction site the supply of the TBM is realized by trackless trains. These rubber tired, ~60-m long trains consist of 5 single cars and enable an unbroken transport from the loading area to the TBM via a 2.5-km long access tunnel at a decline of ~12%. 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 by underground staff. The VirtuRail System by MobileTronics steers all 18 axles electronically so they all precisely follow the track of the first axle.

An additional driver assistance system guides the first axle automatically in the tunnel. Furthermore, this assistance system is used for obstacle detection and guides the train around a 90°curve on 30-m radius at the end of the access tunnel. Also the docking of the train inside the TBM backup is performed automatically. Under regular operation the driver only controls the speed. Since may 2016 these trains accumulated more than 200,000 km without a single significant problem with the new technology: This new supply logistics also was an important contribution to the TBM advance world record of 62 m during 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 “traffic signs“ to read its position and to set the driving parameters for the next section. Another successfully implemented challenge is the passing of oncoming traffic and the interaction with other vehicles driving in the access tunnel. The demonstration prepared together with STRABAG/Salini Impregilo was carried out on Dec. 3, 2018, and has shown the full potential of autonomous operation in a mixed use environment not exclusively used by autonomous vehicles. Thereby it has been proven that a fully driverless operation is possible using the VirtuRail technology: In the future the 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 tunneling operations. 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.

This article was contributed by MobileTronics.

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