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Impressive demonstrations in Europe hint of a transformational technology to come


More than a dozen trucks from six manufacturers recently platooned across Europe, covering five countries and converging at the Port of Rotterdam from various points of origin. It was the most impressive demonstration to date of the potential for truck platooning to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, while also making better use of limited road space.

The European Truck Platooning Challenge was spearheaded by the Netherlands, during its term as head of the European Union. Six OEMs took part, including DAF Trucks, Daimler Trucks, Iveco, MAN Truck & Bus, Scania and Volvo Group. Scania’s platoon travelled the greatest distance – more than 2,000 kilometres and across three national borders.

Each of the OEMs demonstrated their own proprietary platooning technologies, allowing a column of two or more trucks to travel across Europe in tightly packed formations. The goal was to demonstrate the feasibility and readiness of truck platooning technology as well as the need for the harmonization of regulations between European states to allow its use.

“The main objective for this demonstration was to highlight the need for the harmonization of regulations to allow cross-border platoons within Europe,” said Hayder Wokil, mobility and automation director with Volvo Trucks, who was at the Rotterdam landing Apr. 6.

He said the demonstration was so impressive that regulators in Europe are keen to further the discussion about advancing truck platooning.

Additional platooning demonstrations, though not likely on so grand a scale, will be held in North America as well, as early as this year. Volvo is slated to show its truck platooning this year along with the University of California, Berkeley. Wokil said the system that will be used here will be based on the European platform, but tailored for North American applications. As in Europe, harmonization of regulations is required before the technology can be widely deployed here.

“In North America, you have different rules in different states, the same case you see in Europe,” Wokil said. “Some countries within Europe in their regulations, regulate distance between trucks in time, some in distance, some of them just simply say you should behave and then it’s up to the police to judge on the road. There is no harmonization between the regulations. If we want to give this a boost, we need to have this kind of harmonization between states and make it clear for our customers.”

Daimler Trucks, just days before the European Truck Platooning Challenge, demonstrated its Highway Pilot Connect semi-autonomous truck platooning technology to more than 300 journalists from 36 countries. It claims an aggregate fuel savings of 7% across the trucks in a platoon, ranging from 2% for the lead truck to 11% for the next and 9% for the trailing truck in a three-truck formation. This is achieved by improving airflow across the entire formation, reducing wind resistance.

Daimler also touts safety benefits. Because the trucks are connected via vehicle-to-vehicle communications, the following trucks can initiate braking in just 0.1 seconds. It takes a human driver 1.4 seconds to react, during which at 80 km/h, a truck will cover 30 metres before the brakes are applied.

Daimler’s Highway Pilot Connect allows the trucks to close up to within 15 metres at highway speeds. If a car inserts itself into a platoon, the following trucks automatically back off and restore a safe following distance. When the car leaves the lane, the trucks once again close up into a platoon formation. In Daimler’s case, all this happens while the driver keeps his hands off the steering wheel and feet off the pedals. Not all the systems developed by the OEMs that participated in the Challenge, however, involve this level of automation.

Volvo, for example, automated braking and acceleration, but not steering.

“There are different levels,” Wokil explained. “The system we ran to Holland with was only longitudinal control. That means it’s braking and accelerating automatically through vehicle-to-vehicle communications.”

However, Wokil added Volvo can and has demonstrated truck platooning that also incorporates latitudinal control, through its 2012 SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project.  This project involved two Volvo trucks and three Volvo cars, travelling within four metres of each other at speeds of up to 90 km/h. Providing lateral control requires the use of cameras to complement radar and GPS technologies.

Getting regulators on-board with the truck platooning concept should be achievable by promoting the environmental benefits, and that’s exactly what truck manufacturers are doing. Daimler says a truck platoon travelling on level roads can achieve fuel consumption as low as 25 litres per 100 kilometres while pulling a loaded semi-trailer combination with a gross weight of 40 tonnes. This equates to just 0.66 litres/100 kms, producing 13.3 grams of CO2 per km per tonne, well below the emissions of any passenger car with an internal combustion engine.

The other societal benefit is the ability to improve the use of limited road space and mitigate congestion. A three-truck platoon can travel in a pack occupying just 80 metres, compared to the 150 metres the same three trucks would require when not connected in a platoon, Daimler claims.

“We do platooning for three reasons,” Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler Trucks globally said during the media demonstration in Dusseldorf, Germany. “It makes better use of the infrastructure, it reduces fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and it increases safety.”

While two- and three-truck platoons were featured in the European Challenge, Sven Ennerst, head of truck product engineering and global procurement with Daimler Trucks, said up to 10 trucks could participate in a platoon using Highway Pilot Connect.

One of the next big challenges, however, once all the regulatory hurdles are overcome, will be to make the proprietary platooning systems developed by each OEM compatible, so that trucks of various makes and models can connect and travel in multi-brand platoons. Volvo’s Wokil said this is something customers are already pushing for.

“In North America, as in Europe, our customers are not only driving one brand,” Wokil said. “They usually have multiple brands in their fleet and to achieve the maximum benefit of platooning, we need to have these systems work between brands and be compatible.”

For now, Wokil said more on-road testing is needed, though the technology has already been demonstrated safely while interacting with other vehicles on public roads.

“We’ve done a lot of testing on our proving grounds…but we need to learn more by running platoons on the road before we will introduce it to the market,” Wokil said.


James Menzies

James Menzies

James Menzies is executive editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.
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