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Fleet Platooning is a Trucking Game Changer

Enock Mtoi

Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology offers significant advantages in safety, highway capacity, and fuel consumption, and driverless vehicles using V2V may be close to practical deployment in the trucking industry.

Truck fleet platooning may be the real game changer for V2V technology. In the context of driverless technology, platooning means to strategically control vehicles at an optimum following distance through the use of radar and wireless communication, so one vehicle follows another at a calculated safe distance. The photo from Scania that illustrates this article demonstrates platooning.

One leader in fleet platooning is Peloton Technology, the Mountain View, Calif.-based firm that calls itself an automated vehicle technology company. Peloton combines radar-based collision mitigation equipment and V2V communication technology with sophisticated vehicle control algorithms, to enable the platooning of heavy trucks.

REDUCE DRAG

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a fleet test with Peloton demonstration systems and reported that it saw potential for significant fuel savings by applying semi-automated truck platooning of line-haul sleeper cabs with modern aerodynamics. By platooning the trucks and using electronic coupling systems that allowed multiple vehicles to accelerate or brake simultaneously, the fleet saw a dramatic reduction in aerodynamic drag, leading to fuel cost savings. By many accounts, fuel accounts for as much as 40 percent of operating expenses for long-haul fleets.

NREL found fuel savings of up to 5.3 percent for the lead truck, and up to 9.7 percent for the trailing truck. These savings metrics are consistent with those reported by the fleet firm CR England. It verified that Peloton’s platooning technology saved it more than 7 percent when the two trucks were going 65 miles per hour, with 10 percent in fuel savings for the rear truck and 4.5 percent for the lead truck.

DRIVERLESS TRUCKS

This platooning technology is receiving acceptance in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) has teamed with industrial, national lab, and academic experts to conduct tests on both small and large trucks, operating them at 50 mph in a single file while maintaining a safe distance of 13 feet between vehicles. This video demonstrates a NEDO driverless truck live on a highway, while this 2013 paper reports benefits in both fuel savings and pollution reduction.

In Europe, Volvo was recently involved in a project called Safe Road Trains for the Environment (Sartre), where there was simulated platoon testing of both cars and trucks.

There are still road blocks to the live use of platooning systems on U.S. roads. Highway infrastructure need to be updated to cope with the operations of this technology, accident liability issues have to be re-defined, and there are some technical unknowns remaining. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to win over consumers who have to accept the idea of sharing the road with a truck that doesn’t have a driver, at least not in the traditional sense.

FYI – Peloton is scheduled to conduct a webinar on platooning trucks with research house Frost & Sullivan on Wednesday, March 18. Learn more.

Enock Mtoi is a research associate with the Laboratory for Adaptive Traffic Operations and Management (LATOM) at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla. He holds a PhD in civil engineering with a focus on transportation systems from Florida State University,  Tallahassee.