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Truck platooning is slowly starting to become a reality. With all the benefits it can provide to trucking and shipping companies, it is easy to understand why many people are excited to see what the future brings. Here is everything to know about truck platooning.
What Is Truck Platooning?
In general, truck platooning refers to multiple trucks traveling closely together in a convoy. These vehicles connect to each other through the help of different technology. While this concept has been around for a while, truck platooning is still in early development.
The idea of this concept is that there is one leading vehicle that dictates the route and the speed of all the others following in the platoon. While currently, all vehicles require human drivers, in the future, the trucks will use autonomous technology except the one leading the convoy.
In a platoon, all the vehicles drive relatively close to one another, which helps reduce wind drag. With self-driving technology, the trucks can drive even closer than human drivers. This is because the AI systems powering the vehicles will have increasingly better reaction time than people.
How Does Truck Platooning Work?
As mentioned, in truck platooning, all the vehicles are equipped with technology that connects to all the other trucks in the convoy. This includes radar, GPS, cameras, active braking and self-driving systems. The way the trucks are connected is with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication.
Currently, the vehicles can’t truly drive autonomously, but as systems advance, truck platooning will reach that end goal. It is essential to note the leading vehicle controls the speed and braking of the following trucks.
Because of this technology, the trucks can follow at closer distances. For now, humans are still required in the vehicle and can take complete control if something were to go wrong.
Truck platooning relies on a form of adaptive cruise control. The vehicles have radar systems that look at what is going on further down the road.
These systems measure the distance between the trucks and the speed difference. Because all the vehicles are connected, they send out different information and data they use to make the journey a success. They notify each other about potential issues and send updates about their speed and location.
The rest of the trucks use this data to help maintain safe following distances. As the convoy continues, the information is combined with the radar data from the leading truck. This provides them with a comprehensive overview of how everything is going.
Is Platooning a More Sustainable and Fuel Efficient Option?
As mentioned, truck platooning is not a new concept and has been developing for a while. According to a 2016 study, it can have exceptional sustainability benefits. The report states truck platooning can reduce CO2 emissions of the leading vehicle by eight percent and the truck following behind by 16%.
These numbers can vary and depend on different factors. The range is anywhere from one to eight percent for the leading vehicle and seven to sixteen percent for the truck following in the platoon.
Truck platooning generates fewer CO2 emissions because of the reduced wind drag, which also results in improved fuel efficiency. Due to the vehicles traveling so close to each other, they suffer less wind drag.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has done numerous extensive studies on how much truck platooning can save on fuel costs. The results they found showed exceptional promise.
According to them, the leading truck had fuel savings of up to ten percent and the vehicle traveling at the back of the convoy had 13%. The truck in the middle performed the best and reached an estimated 17% of total fuel savings. They also conducted a similar study with SmartWay tractors.
While the tests were done at various speeds, 55 mph had the best results. The leading vehicle had fuel savings of 5.3% and the one following behind had 9.7%. The study concluded the amount of fuel savings was affected by the load weight, ambient temperature and the distance between the tractors.
The Benefits of Truck Platooning
The idea on which truck platooning is based is not a new one — driving closer to other vehicles reduces wind drag. Many expert racing drivers rely on this concept every day and it is called drafting.
Most of the benefits truck platooning offers are because of this aerodynamic technique. As self-driving and V2V communication technology improve, people can expect to see increased advantages.
- Improved fuel efficiency: Trucks travel close to each other in a platoon, which means they suffer less wind drag. This results in them traveling the same distance as normal but using less fuel to reach the desired destination.
- Reduces CO2 emissions: Because of the improved fuel efficiency, trucks will also generate less carbon emissions. If platooning is widely adopted, this can have a massive impact on the trucking industry’s sustainability.
- Improves congestion: Trucks traveling together and taking the most optimal routes can lead to improved traffic congestion.
- Increases safety: Many accidents result from human error. As the technology in truck platooning advances, it increases the safety of the drivers. This is because these systems are designed to have increasingly better response time than humans.
- Increased efficiency: Optimal routes, improved fuel savings, less traffic congestion and reduced wind drag leads to an increase in overall efficiency. With truck platooning, trucking companies can make quicker deliveries and have decreased operational costs.
What Needs to Happen For Platooning to Work Across the United States?
While there have been many improvements in platooning, it has some way to go before it’s widely used in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. Here is a summary of what is still needed and some of the challenges in truck platooning.
- Further advancements are required with the technology, especially self-driving systems.
- Some studies have shown that weather conditions can affect the effectiveness of the platoon. For example, with heavy rain, the distance between the vehicles might need to increase to allow for safe braking and stopping.
- Not all roads in the U.S. are currently suitable for truck platooning. The infrastructure of roads will require an upgrade to make platooning more accessible and safer.
- More platooning testing is required in real-traffic conditions. This can reveal insightful information, such as how many trucks are necessary for the most benefit.
- The technology in truck platooning will need to work with other brands or trucking companies.
- To obtain the most optimal reaction time, all the trucks in the platoon will need to share the same maintenance schedule. This is because various factors, such as fluid levels, can influence response time.
The Future of Truck Platooning
Truck platooning has many advantages it can offer the shipping and trucking industry. It can lower CO2 emissions, improve fuel savings and increase overall efficiency. While there is still much that needs to happen, the future of truck platooning looks bright.