Trains of trucks are on their way

The impression that many people get is that driverless cars may grab the headlines but semi-automated convoys of trucks are much closer to being seen on the nation's roads. While that may be true, companies such as BP Ventures are investors in truck platooning with Peloton – a company that is developing truck platooning technology to save fuel and to reduce carbon emissions. The latter points are two of the reasons why many governments across the world are in favour allowing platooning, which sees trucks being led by a lead HGV with others following in what could be described as a train of trucks. The overall ambition of truck platooning is autonomous driving. For the meantime, a human driver still needs to be able to take the wheel.

Geoff Johnson from Peloton says: “National governments across the world have expressed support for, enabled, or helped fund truck platooning activities since the 1990s. Major activities include the Chauffeur and Chauffer II projects in Europe, followed more recently by HAVE-IT, SARTRE, and Konvoi.  The Japanese government has facilitated platooning activity through the Energy ITS programme.  In the US, the US Department of Transportation, US Army, and many state governments have directly supported truck platooning activities.”

He added: “Multiple OEMs are pursuing platooning technology today, including Navistar, Volvo, Daimler, Scania, and MAN, and others may be examining platooning as well.” Insurers are backing the technology too. Yet, in the US, the Society of Engineers Level 1 state platooning “has not been subject to any special insurance regime” – those are governed by each state.

Market pressure

Dr Gerardo Daalderop, senior principal, systems and applications of BU Automotive at NXP Semiconductors says that carmakers are “pressing for the marketing of platooning by 2023. ACEA, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association has published the roadmap and steps to take to reach market introduction in 2023 – including the cross-border considerations and the framework to allow platooning.”

The members of ACEA include major truck manufacturers such as DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania and Volvo. They are working together in a cooperative way, where there is a healthy mix of competition and co-operation to execute cross-manufacturer projects. This approach allows them to learn from the projects about the economic benefits, how to reduce CO2 emissions and the benefits thereof, and it helps them to understand the required regulatory steps to make truck platooning a reality. Together, by working in this way, they are also sharing a common view of the benefits of truck platooning.

Regulatory framework

Speaking about the regulatory framework and the need to develop it, Daalderop says: “For platooning the question is how the solution that validates platooning will work. The governments must see proof and agree that platooning is safe and reliable and this needs to be accepted in all of the countries.” In essence, everyone needs to know how to do truck platooning well with safety upper most in their minds. For this reason, it will take time for truck platooning to become a regular activity and so he predicts that the regulation will be in place by 2021 with the first market introductions occurring in 2023. Thankfully, he finds that most governments are very cooperative in their ambition to enable truck platooning as it can also improve traffic management and possibly reduce traffic jams.


He adds: “If you can establish the economic benefit of platooning you will also see a reduction in traffic jams and safety incidents arising from the difference in vehicle speeds on the highways. Governments are involved in several projects. There are European projects starting in 2018, following up on past initiatives. So, by 2021 it should be doable. There are several studies that show the fuel costs can equate to 33% of transportation and the leader and followers can, therefore, save between 5% and 15%. You can shave 3% of all the transportation costs off to your bottom line.”

Proof needed

Despite the UK government’s support, Carl Hanson, fleet director at Wincanton says: “Ultimately, the practical benefits of platooning in the UK are still to be established, however the underlying principles of autonomous vehicles and platooning will certainly bring benefits to companies such as us in future. The ability to connect with other vehicles delivers benefits such as greater fuel efficiency and safety in the immediate term. Less drag results in improved mileage per gallon, and thus less emissions, and theoretically autonomous vehicles should be safer as they minimise concerns around human error and driver fatigue.”

Hanson nevertheless describes the UK as “attempting to get ahead of the game when it comes to autonomous vehicles”. He says platooning equates to being one step towards achieving that goal and he points out the evidence is shown in the recent Queen’s Speech, which sets out the UK government’s legislative agenda for the next five years of parliament. It shows the that UK government is broadly supportive of truck platooning’s development, and indeed of autonomous vehicle technologies.

With regards to Wincanton, he says his fleet already has ADAS incorporated into this firm’s vehicles, making his company well-placed to operate semi-autonomous convoys “once the relevant legislation is in place, and the challenges relating to our existing road infrastructure are overcome”.

Economies of position

In terms of fuel-savings, with the view that truck platooning could lead to different companies’ truck forming a convoy to divide up the fuel costs amongst each other – depending on their position in the platoon, it’s not felt that there is a need to introduce a logistics and accounting system to achieve this aim. Dr. Ane-Kristin Reif-Mosel, DB Schenker project manager of corporate development says: “There will be a singular logistics providers that will make profit from building platoons into the operations of fleets and it is likely that the big carriers and logistics providers such as DB Schenker and DHL will operate platoons within their own fleet operations at first.” She sees the second step as being one where the logistics companies will cooperate with each other to run trucks on the same routes with similar schedules. In her view, there will also be a third stage, which will involve the spontaneous building of platoons “over spanning fleet ownership”. The costs will be attributed by the platooning service providers at a price the market finds acceptable, while reflecting fuel cost-savings.

She adds: “There will be a need for advanced accounting systems once it is possible for a truck to join a platoon overarching different logistics companies and their operations, to realise who’s been driving in a platoon, at what position and for how long. Tracking and documentation of platooning status are likely to be established via on-board systems of the trucks, which might transfer the information to clearing platforms. This is a future prospect as there are no platforms to offer this now.”

Platooning aftermarket?

So, will there be a huge aftermarket for retro-fitting platooning capabilities? Reif-Mosel doesn’t think so: “I don’t think there will be a huge aftermarket because in Western Europe trucks have a lifecycle of around eight years only. We expect the additional cost of platooning equipment to be at about €10,000 to €20,000 per truck too and logistics companies will buy trucks that are suitable from the start.”

The trucks are only replaced when enough potential applications are found to justify the investment. Furthermore, she says companies such as MAN will “base the planned piloting on using their latest truck generation but we also expect that trucks, not equipped to do platooning right from the start, might be equipped later”. So, the jury is out on the development of an aftermarket.

Higher functionality

Daalderopthen talks about his company’s proofs of concept, disclosing how they relate to higher levels of automation and ADAS functionality – such as object avoidance. “We had a proof concept for longitudinal control, and this year we have added automated lateral control, and shorter headway distances between the trucks,” he reveals.  

He then adds: “So we will demonstrate longitudinal and lateral automation and we have an architecture and solution with fail-operational modes.” He also believes his firm has object avoidance under control, even in the scenario where cars or other trucks try to cut into the platoon. However, Lane-keeping systems aren’t so easy in his opinion as they might not always work effectively in certain weather conditions. Despite this challenge he expects to demonstrate solutions like these this year in 2017. It is, therefore, possible to overcome platooning’s challenges and truck platoons are on their way.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *