Truck platooning – when will autonomous trucks appear on our roads?

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First autonomous trucks appeared on the streets of Singapore in January. During a three-year trial period they will be tested in city traffic. Yet the concept of truck platooning is developing dynamically also in Europe and we are likely to see vehicles using this solution on our roads in the near future.

Truck platooning, otherwise known as integrated convoys, is the system of connecting trucks moving in a column in such a way that all following vehicles imitate the behaviour of the lead vehicle. In this manner, only one truck must be controlled by a man; the rest just copy his manoeuvres.

 

UPSIDES AND DOWNSIDES OF THIS SOLUTION 

The application of truck platooning is not simply the method to cut  the demand for drivers who are more and more sought after in Europe. Tests carried our by an American outfit Peleton Technology show that thanks to decreasing the distance between vehicles, it is possible to improve the aerodynamics of the column and reduce fuel consumption by 4.5% for the lead vehicle and by 7-10% for the others. So we can start talking about serious savings and reductions of carbon dioxide emissions.  Trucks driving closer together also occupy less space on the road. This will allow for easing traffic congestions and improving the flow of vehicles. 

Truck platooning enthusiasts also talk about safety issues. Integrated convoys use the latest technologies which minimize the risk of a human error. DAF declares that their system lets the truck react to a vehicle braking on front of it 25 times faster than a human being would do it!

Safety issues are raised also by those sceptical about the concept of truck platooning. They draw attention to the issues of communication between the vehicles. Its interruption or failure could have fatal consequences. Drivers of the following trucks surely wouldn't be as focused as during conventional driving if they could rely on technology and the driver in the lead truck. In many situations, therefore, they would have problems with appropriately quick reactions to potential risks.

 

INTEGTATED CONVOYS ARE CLOSER THAN WE THINK 

However improbable it seems, truck platooning already exists in street traffic. The launch of integrated convoys by the port of Singapore at the beginning of this year (based on solutions provided by Scania and Toyota) is an ideal match for the strategy of  a smart city which has been implemented there for several years now. Autonomous trucks will join the autonomous taxis (launched in August 2016) and buses (used on the streets since October 2016).

Yet Europe is not too far behind the implementation of truck platooning. At the initiative of the Netherlands which led the EU in 2016, European Truck Platooning Challenge was organized as the first cross-border truck platooning initiative in the world. During the Challenge, six truck makers (DAF, Iveco, MAN, Mercedes, Scania and Volvo) organized integrated convoys on public roads heading from various European cities to Rotterdam. The longest route covered by Scania was 2,000 km!

So there are no technological barriers against the commercial application of truck platooning by European logistics operators.  The largest obstacle is still money. The implementation of the new system requires investments in modern vehicles and trainings for drivers as well as negotiating favourable conditions of vehicles and cargo insurance.  Nevertheless, it is just a matter of time before European companies will use integrated convoys. Who knows, perhaps 2017 will be a turning point for this solution?

23.02.2017
Paweł Rymarowicz

Paweł Rymarowicz

Operation Director

Raben Logistics Polska

Connected with Raben Group for over 17 years. Specializes in international and domestic road transport as well as in home delivery service.

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