Fully autonomous, self-driving, trucks aren’t where the action is right now – think instead about platooning. It's all to do moving vehicles in convoys, with a fleet of trucks automatically following the vehicle at the head of the pack. It's like a convoy, but automated, and it’s coming to public roads soon, while fully autonomous juggernauts aren’t, says Steve Mullins.
The trick is to hook up all the trucks in the convoy via Wi-Fi so that they all follow the actions of the lead vehicle – if the leader brakes, they all brake, if it accelerates, everyone speeds up.
In the US, a number states are rolling out or considering public road trials of what, Stateside, is called ‘peleton platooning’. That makes sense in a sector where fuel represents around 40% of fleet operating costs because platooning boosts fuel economy as the trucks travel closer together and reduce aerodynamic drag.
The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory reckons that close to tw0-thirds of the distance currently racked up by combination trucks could be covered in platoons.
The UK has just announced a three-phase platooning trial for 2018 comprising three trucks, with the government stumping up more than £8 million to fund the testing. The Transport Research Laboratory will carry out the trial, following a government-funded feasibility study which recommended a trial to examine the benefits and viability of platooning.
The first test phase will be track-based research to help decide factors such as distance between vehicles, and on which roads live-traffic tests might take place.
For that deeper dive
Truck platooning is fast emerging as an answer to many major challenges of long distance road freight transport – EU Truck Platooning
States are testing platooning technology, setting up multi-state test agreements such as the I-10 Connected Freight Corridor Coalition, which comprises transportation agencies from California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas – GovTech