Is Platooning Dead?

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July 24, 2019 Vol. 16 No. 15

No, certainly not dead, though the path forward doesn’t look entirely smooth. Nonetheless, Peloton Technology continues to promote the value of platooning tractor-trailers, and it’s hard at work to develop the next generation, using Level 4 autonomy.

CEO Josh Switkes announced the plans during the recent 2019 Automated Vehicle Symposium in Orlando, Fla., writes my colleague John G. Smith, editor of Today’s Trucking magazine. That next generation would see electronically linked tractor-trailers that would leave trucks at the rear of a platoon to drive without human intervention.

A driver of the lead truck in Peloton’s Automated Following system would still be at the controls, but the truck behind it would rely on Level 4 autonomous technology to steer and maintain the tight following distances that improve aerodynamics and fuel economy.

Drivers in the lead trucks still act as the “world’s best sensors” for the vehicle-to-vehicle systems, Switkes says. Unlike a fully autonomous truck, they know enough to take actions like slowing down when approaching a temporary construction zone or when coming across a sudden downpour. They can certainly identify the risky or erratic behavior of other road users.

“It’s hard for a single automated truck to do. Easy with a driver in there,” he says. “We’ve got this amazing sensor in the form of the driver. Why throw that away?”

The Level 4 system already exists as a prototype, but all the functions are not yet validated.

NO TIMELINE HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED for the rollout, although Peloton expects early adopters to include hub-to-hub operations.

It’s a significant leap forward when compared to the company’s Level 1 PlatoonPro system that leaves a driver in the rear truck to steer, even though the system automatically manages following distances by controlling the powertrain and brakes based on the actions of the lead truck.

Six customers are already in the midst of the Level 1 field trials, delivering average fuel savings of 7%, platooning more than 1100 km per day with following distances as tight as 55 feet. Tested gross vehicle weights have approached 80,000 lb.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to