Truck Platooning: History, Benefits, Future
Published On Jul 18, 2016
Much is being said about truck platooning and its various uses in the trucking world. This intriguing intelligent system has the potential to change the face of transportation as well as bring about a revolution in the logistics industry. Let’s have a look at the origins of truck platooning and the benefits it can provide in the years to come.
What is platooning?
Truck platooning comprises of a number of trucks driven by smart technology and mutual communication, thereby creating an organized platoon on the roads. How these semi-autonomous road trains work is also interesting. One lead vehicle controls two or more trucks through wireless communication using several sensors. Thus, the action taken by the lead truck is immediately communicated to the other trucks in the platoon. For example, if the lead truck has to brake immediately, its collision avoidance system gets activated and the communication link shares the action making the other trucks stop instantly.
Platooning of vehicles can be traced back to 1972-73, much before intelligent technologies came into fore. However, some experts believe in tracing platooning back to 1939, when Norman Bel Geddes, an industrial designer, floated the idea for the first automatic truck. Still, the direct reference to this technology can be marked in the year 1972-73 when the European ARAMIS project platooned 25 small transit vehicles running a foot apart at 50 mph on a French test track. The vehicles used ultrasonic and optical range sensors.
The Prometheus Project in Europe (1980-1995) is another milestone where both car and truck makers, technology companies, universities and the government came together to create intelligent vehicles that would run on an advanced road system. The arrangement would include key areas such as communications, vehicle control and artificial intelligence.
One of the companies involved significantly in this project was Volkswagen who ran test-track trails at highway speed. The vehicles had fully automated steering and longitudinal control. Although the project showed promise, it was eventually dropped because of political reasons.
Experiments still continued in the United States for better platooning technologies. In UC Berkley, the Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology (PATH) project in 1986 started as a collaboration between state and local governments and pioneered several intelligent systems. The path project is operational even today and currently runs three-truck platoons operating at 14 feet intervals.
To make truck platooning a practical reality, several countries across the globe are running test programs. One of the projects that needs a mention is the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project (2010-2012) that was conducted in partnership with the European Commission, Ricardo UK and Volvo. The project’s focus was to design intelligent systems for truck platooning that would have key environmental and safety benefits as well. In a first, SARTRE involved automated control in longitudinal as well as lateral positions (lateral positions were used for the first time in platooning technology).
Peloton Technologies, a Silicon Valley outfit collaborating with Volvo and Peterbilt, has come up with a truck platooning system that integrates safety, efficiency and analytics for collision mitigation and adaptive cruise control systems. The system combines of vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V), radar-based active braking systems, and proprietary vehicle control algorithms to couple trucks electronically. Peloton has run successful demos in Detroit and is looking forward for demo runs in other regions.
A study conducted by the GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory, Auburn University, revealed that trucks that move in a platoon become more fuel efficient with the lead truck saving five percent fuel and the trailing truck saving 10 percent fuel. Listed below are some of the other benefits of truck platooning:
1. As trucks drive closer together at constant speed with less braking and accelerating, platooning reduces fuel consumption and is a cost-saver. Also reduction in aerodynamic drag saves fuel.
2. Platooning reduces CO2 emissions by 10 percent.
3. Truck platooning improves safety on the roads. Due to connected driving, braking is automatic with zero reaction time, eliminating chances of human error.
4. Platooning helps optimize road transportation by preventing road congestion, reducing traffic jams, reducing tail-backs and helping deliver goods faster.
5. Platooning helps make safer, more efficient flow of freight.
Present and Future
Platooning technologies by several organizations are currently in the testing phase. A few months back, Europe witnessed a platooning challenge where truck platoons by six truck makers travelled to Rotterdam in the Netherlands through different routes. The brands participating in the challenge were DAF, Iveco, MAN, Scania, Volvo and Daimler.
Platooning has also caught the eye of netizens and several possibilities are being discussed online. With platooning technologies advancing with each passing year and a good sharing of knowledge and experience around this intelligent system, platooning might become a common phenomenon on highway roads.
However, for platooning to come to India, there needs to be a healthy and mutual participation from all trucking industry stakeholders such as truck makers, logistic services, research institutes and government bodies. Foreign countries are meanwhile gearing up to welcome platooning for over-the-road operations.