New technologies are popping up everywhere for the trucking industry. At last week’s American Trucking Associations (ATA) Management Conference and Exhibition (MCE), telematics providers and truck manufacturers presented their latest and greatest inventions. From side monitor cameras and antilock braking systems to lane departure warnings, technology is taking over the trucking industry. Many of these innovations will serve as pathways to autonomous vehicles. Yet there is one technological advance in particular that is on a direct route toward eventually developing fully automated vehicle technology ready for the market—platooning.
Jack Roberts, long-time trucking journalist and panelist on the MCE’s Tuesday General Session, Autonomous and Platooning Trucks: How Soon? How Disruptive?, explained the most recent developments in tandem driving. According to the Trucking Efficiency Confidence Report: Two-Truck Platooning, the technology allows drivers to be in full command of each vehicle while the pair are electronically connected, with one following the other. The result diminishes aerodynamic drag—allowing vehicles to reduce fuel use and maintain a safe but shorter following distance. The technology essentially enables two trucks to electronically speak to each other, form a convoy and travel at safe highway speeds. “Whether a Mack truck or a Peterbilt, regardless of brand, the two trucks can communicate with each other,” said Jack.
Neighboring panelist Josh Switkes, Co-Founder and CEO of Peloton Technology Inc., explained how their platooning system is connected to the cloud and enables automatic vehicle communication. “Whatever the front truck does, the back truck knows about it,” said Josh, “If the front truck accelerates, the rear truck can accelerate too.”
The cloud based technology notifies drivers of platooning opportunities if road, traffic and weather conditions are safe. It electronically adjusts the distance between trucks based on these variables. Drivers can engage and disengage the platooning function whenever they want; they remain in full command of the vehicle. Integrated collision mitigation systems and lane departure warnings allow the vehicles to automatically react to obstacles detected by sensors and prevent accidents from occurring. Platooning is not equivalent to autonomous/driverless trucking. Both Jack and Josh emphasized that platooning requires a driver to control the wheel. Yet it is a big step toward the development and sustainability of automated vehicles.
The seeds of platooning already exist within telematics software. At its core, platooning depends on communication and location tracking. Telematics platforms offer routing and two-way messaging features that allow dispatchers to direct drivers to specific locations. These features also help drivers reduce fuel use and can be used to relay each other road hazard information. Some telematics providers also include safety analysis tools to help fleet managers identify dangerous driving habits including harsh braking, speeding, stop sign violations, and harsh cornering.
Empowered with this information, fleet managers can produce coaching and training programs to help their drivers adhere to road safety standards and encourage a culture of safe driving across their fleet. Someday soon those fleets may be traveling in pairs.
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