Volvo & FedEx Partner on Self-Driving Truck Tech in US

Volvo Trucks North America has completed a successful, on-highway demonstration of its truck platooning technology, consisted of three professional truck drivers in Volvo VNL tractors, each pulling double 28-foot trailers.

The company, together with FedEx and the North Carolina Turnpike Authority (NCTA), used advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technology to conduct on-highway truck platooning as part of an ongoing research collaboration.

Truck platooning comprises a number of trucks equipped with ADAS platforms — one closely following the other and forming a platoon — with the vehicles in constant communicating with each other.

Volvo has been working with FedEx and the NCTA to expand on-highway operations of the Swedish automaker’s Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control (CACC) in the US on Interstate 540 — also known as the Triangle Expressway.

Through CACC, a wireless vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology, the tractors and trailers remained in constant contact.

The trucks traveled at speeds of up to 62mph, while keeping a time gap of 1.5 seconds and maintaining a closer distance than what is typical for on-highway tractors.

A joint press release explained that when trucks can drive closely behind one another, fuel efficiency is improved as a result of reduced drag.

“Volvo Trucks has long supported platooning because it benefits freight companies and professional drivers alike through safer, more fuel-efficient operations,” Per Carlsson, acting president of Volvo Trucks North America, said in a statement. “We know these technologies will be part of our future, but exact timing depends on many things, namely regulations, infrastructure, safety standards, and market demand.”

In addition, the company staged unplanned, vehicle cut-ins during the test, to demonstrate how the technology handles common traffic situations.

The announcement marks the first public showcase of platooning technology between a major truck manufacturer and a transportation company in the US.

Volvo’s V2V technology is based on Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC), which has found favor among self-driving vehicle manufacturers for its capability to perform well in a V2V environment.

“Dedicated bandwidth within the 5.9GHz spectrum is critical for the successful deployment of V2V application, like truck platooning,” Keith Brandis, Volvo Trucks North America vice president for product planning, noted in a statement.

Volvo Trucks and FedEx also announced that the two companies plan to continue developing the technology on the highway to learn more about the potential benefits offered by vehicle platooning.

The testing will also allow the companies to adapt to the technological and regulatory developments that could ultimately determine the commercial viability of platooning technology in the US.

“This collaboration demonstrates the Turnpike Authority’s commitment to invest in the safety of customers with state of the art technology that could become an invaluable tool for transportation,” NCTA executive director Beau Memory wrote.

Earlier in June, the investment arm of Volvo bought a stake in Silicon Valley Lidar startup Luminar as it speeds development of its autonomous vehicle and ADAS portfolio.

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., Luminar specializes in advanced sensor technology for use in autonomous vehicles, including Lidar, a type of laser vision that keeps self-driving cars continuously positioned on the road.

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209.

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