Truck Platooning: For Safer, Cleaner, & Efficient Transport
All through my childhood, I grew up watching strings of ants marching up and down the wall, one by one following the other ant in front of it. Moving in a straight line, they carry crumbs of food in such an orderly flow and articulated pace as I stand and watch them. This idea must have admired someone in the truck engineering field sometime before, as it struck me when I came to know about the technique of Truck Platooning. By making lorries drive closely together as a convoy in semi-automated mode using wireless connectivity and autonomous systems, the potential of safer, cleaner and more efficient cargo transport has been unlocked. The recent European Truck Platooning Challenge initiative has given a great boost to the feasibility of the platooning idea, with the subject high on the foresight of truck makers and EU policy makers.
Last month, a host of transport sector stakeholders like the Netherlands (as ongoing EU presidency) and European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) consisting six major truck makers came together to organise the European Truck Platooning Challenge, in which platoons of semi-automated trucks were tested on public roads, crossing national borders to reach the final destination. The initiative has demonstrated the practicality and benefits of truck platooning to the policy makers and other stakeholders so as to evolve a concerted regulations and investments.
What is Truck Platooning?
Just like how ants move following the other one in front it closely, truck platooning involves linking a couple of trucks in a convoy, in which the trucks closely follow each other at a preset distance. The first truck of the platoon acts as a master, while the other trucks behind are deemed as slaves that react and adapt to the changes in the former’s movement. There is, of course, no pheromone scents to follow up as in case of the ants, but thanks to a host of connected technologies and self-driving systems, the platooned vehicles can coordinate and respond to each other precisely. For instance, if the master truck brakes abruptly, all the other trucks also brake similarly. If the first vehicle accelerates or decelerates, the slave trucks automatically match the change so as to maintain the preset distance.
Trucking experts say that this technique may revolutionise the whole industry and the way trucks drive on roads, as truck platooning can make road transport more efficient, cleaner, and safer in future. Here’s how.
Firstly, platooning assures lower fuel consumption, as the vehicles drive closer together at a constant speed, with less braking and accelerating. Analysts predict a decent 10% CO2 emission reduction potential with this practice. There is also a reduction in drag that contributes to 25% of fuel consumption, therefore the closer the trucks drive to each other, the greater the fuel-saving potential. Moreover, truck platooning is to play a key role in industry’s integrated approach to double the CO2 emissions reduction.
Secondly, since the trucks can drive with just one-second gap between them using wireless communication, the reaction time for braking is reduced to zero, which in turn essentially improves highway safety. Driver’s reaction time and concentration are the critical risk factors in our highways and about 90% of all traffic accidents point to human error. Further, the safety of other road users is improved either, as the truck driving becomes more predictable. The technique also minimizes the ‘accordion effect’ in traffic congestion as roads are more effectively used.
Finally, platooning make the logistic process more efficient and optimised, which may have a positive impact on the whole supply-chain, transport systems, and to the operators as well. It can also possibly reduce the pressures on drivers and the stress faced by them.
In a nutshell, the idea of truck platooning has been identified with potential benefits in all those grey areas of conventional trucking. Improved safety and cleaner driving practices addresses contemporary problems of road safety and CO2 emissions. Yet, making the trucks to travel in sync is impossible without necessary infrastructural and legislative changes in transportation. Discussions among various stakeholders are currently under way, and in a decade or so, the European trucking scene may stand totally altered due to platooning techniques.