Daimler testing platoons on roads

Daimler platoon trucks.jpg

Daimler has been given permission by the Oregon Department of Transportation to test truck platooning on the roads of Oregon following successful trials in Madras, OR. The company has said it will first test the platooning technology on two connected heavy-duty Freightliner Cascadias in the first step called “pairing.”

Truck platooning includes least two trucks operating in tandem with one following closely behind the other. The trucks are outfitted with connected vehicle systems to help them communicate. These trucks automatically maintain a set distance between each other to create the most fuel efficiency. While the vehicles communicate and following vehicles operate autonomously, a driver remains in the vehicles and able to take control at any time.

Silicon Valley startup Peloton Technology is working on this technology. Peloton is working with several truck makers, including Volvo, on its platooning system, which it sees as a precursor to autonomous systems.

Platooning is an exciting prospect for many, as it allows a number of key improvements without the need of radical re-design. Trucking is currently responsible for almost three-quarters of the total U.S freight energy and emissions. Technologies enabling connections between vehicles as well as automation to assist human truck drivers will improve the road safety as well as reduce emissions.

Josh Switkes, founder & CEO of Peloton Technology, complimented a confidence report by NACFE on the benefits of platooning.

“We are very pleased that NACFE’s report reflects how we view platooning – as an extremely important tool for fleets to improve safety and fuel efficiency that will be widely available very soon,” he said. “We think that while the NACFE report addresses fleets generally, many fleets will see even greater real-world fuel savings by optimizing routes to take advantage of platooning opportunities.”

Benefits of platooning include:

  • Clean. It lowers fuel consumption and CO2 emissions as trucks drive within close proximity to improve aerodynamics and reduce the air-drag significantly. The confidence report by NACFE concludes fleets can expect an average of 7% fuel savings per truck while in an aerodynamic two-truck platoon. The U.S. Department of Energy and Transportation has also shown double-digit fuel savings
  • Safety. Braking is automatic, and with each truck within the platoon communicating it is done simultaneously led by the lead vehicle, therefore improving road safety.
  • Efficiency. A network of platoons will optimise the road system and reduce the space required. Driving at constant speeds will improve delivery times and reduce road traffic. It will also provide the opportunity for drivers to carry out other related work while the platoon is in operation, such as administration.

There are a number of challenges that the technology faces such as driver acceptance, reliability, and system security before becoming a commercially viable technology. It is extremely important that states allow for further testing of the technology to smoothen out those obstacles, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing.

Missouri's governor confused self-driving systems in automobiles with platooning for commercial trucks, and as a result, vetoed the bill that would have allowed testing in the state, citing the Tesla accident in May this year as a reason for the veto. Other states such as California and Nevada have passed laws to allow testing. Furthermore, The Federal Highway Administration is overseeing a series of runs testing three-truck platoons on a stretch of I-66 near Centreville, Va.

Testing will be critical to advancing the technology, it is also important for information to be available to the government on platooning, in order to understand the differences between fully self-driving systems and platooning technology.

“We see growing customer interest in platooning. This technology stands for more efficiency and safety. Platooning technology is not meant to replace drivers – it’s designed to help drivers. When the world is ready for platooning, DTNA will have a proven solution,” said Roger Nielsen, President, and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America.

Daimler’s opportunity to test the platooning technology will provide further data and begin the discussion on addressing some of the key barriers the technology faces. Platooning highlights a key stepping stone towards automation in the trucking industry.