Under the terms of the agreement, at least 1,120 Wilson Logistics tractors are to be equipped with Locomation’s Autonomous Relay Convoy (ARC) technology, with the first units delivered in early 2022. Additionally, the deal amends the existing commercial agreement between the two companies to extend through 2028.
“We understand the importance of autonomous vehicle technology to the future of Wilson Logistics, and choosing our AV partner has been a deliberate process,” explained Darrel Wilson, founder and CEO of Wilson Logistics, in a statement.
“In Locomation we see the most viable path to safe, rapid and broad commercialization and we’re proud to make this purchase commitment.” Wilson added. The company delivers “both the technology and the implementation methods required to enable Wilson Logistics to realize our strategic plans for profitable growth through technology.”
Platooning is the linking of two or three trucks in a convoy. The vehicles are not physically connected but technologies keep them in sync, allowing the trucks to drive closer to each other and improving fuel efficiency among other benefits.
Depending on the type of platooning, one or more of the trucks has a human driver, a factor that also makes platooning easier to market at scale.
As fully autonomous trucks gain traction, truck platooning has lost some of the momentum it had earlier in the decade.
In 2019, Martin Daum, then head of Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), said the company was moving away from platooning.
Peloton, another platooning outfit, has been working on the technology for years, but few new developments have been announced.
Viewed in that context, the Locomation order is certainly “a positive development,” said Marc Scribner, a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute who tracks public policies tied to platooning. “In the last couple of years,” Scribner told FreightWaves, “it has seemed like platooning had been falling out of favor among some manufacturers.”
There is additional forward movement. Earlier this summer the federal government awarded a truck platooning project to PATH, an intelligent vehicles group housed at University of California, Berkeley.
Entrepreneurs in the space say the technology is an important step on the road to full autonomy.
“Human-guided convoys are a natural steppingstone to fully autonomous trucks, and will teach us much more and much faster [about autonomy] than we could do otherwise,” Çetin Meriçli, CEO and co-founder of Locomation, told FreightWaves earlier this summer.
The new purchase agreement follows a pilot program with Wilson Logistics in July that included two Locomation trucks hauling company trailers and freight deployed as an autonomous convoy on a 420 mile route from Portland, Oregon, to Nampa, Idaho.
The system allows one driver to pilot a lead truck equipped while a follower truck operates in tandem through Locomation’s autonomous technology. Each ARC segment is engineered for maximum yield and utilization by Locomation’s business operations team.
Locomation targets an advanced form of truck platooning, one that reduces the labor costs significantly for the truck fleet operator but introduces difficult technical challenges, Steven Shladover, a research engineer and project manager at PATH, told FreightWaves in August.
The trailing truck or trucks need to be capable of automated driving and maintaining safety under a wide range of potential failures and driving hazards, Shladover said, “which is extremely difficult to achieve and to prove.”
For the Wilson Logistics pilot, safety drivers were behind the wheel in both trucks. But the ultimate goal involves having a lead driver only in the first truck, thus extending the hours the trucks can be on the road.
Wilson and Locomation did not immediately respond to FreightWaves’ inquiry about having drivers in both trucks.
According to Locomation, at full commercialization, the company’s ARC technology is expected to produce an estimated 30% reduction in operating cost per mile, including an 8% reduction in fuel consumption. It will remove over 40 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air per convoy annually.