Truck Platooning
© Scania

Truck Platooning 101

Self-driving vehicles and automation are driving us into the future, and the trucking industry is looking to take advantage of these advancements. One way they’re doing this is through the concept of truck platooning.

What is truck platooning?

Truck platooning is the linking of two or more trucks to create a convoy. Automated driving and connectivity technology would keep the convoy moving, keeping the vehicle a defined, close distance apart. Trucks would use a combination of cameras, radar and reflective light scanning to maintain a close distance and react to the lead vehicle’s behavior.

The truck at the head of the convoy would act as the leader, with the trucks behind it adapting to its movement and direction.

Platooning would require virtually no action from drivers behind the leading truck. But because drivers remain in control at all times, they are free to leave the platoon any time.

We’re not quite there with technology to make platooning a reality, but we’re not far off.

What are the Main Benefits of Truck Platooning?

Truck platooning offers many potential benefits for the environment, roadways and truckers.

#1 – Safer Roads

Platooning has the potential to make roads safer. Using connected technology and automated driving virtually eliminates human error from the equation.

Braking is automatic and happens immediately. The trucks following the lead vehicle react and adapt almost immediately.

With quick reactivity and the virtual elimination of human driver error, platooning has the potential to reduce accidents and make roadways a safer place.

#2 – Easier on the Environment

Platooning can help reduce the trucking industry’s environmental impact by lowering CO2 emissions and fuel consumption.

In fact, platooning can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 8% for the lead vehicle and 16% for trailing vehicles, according to a study from Ertico.

And because trucks can drive close together, air-drag friction is greatly reduced along with fuel consumption.

#3 – More Efficient

With truck platooning, goods are delivered more efficiently and traffic jams are greatly reduced. The driving range of trucks can also be extended.

Thanks to automated driving technology, drivers are free to take care of other tasks, like phone calls and administrative work.

Truck Platooning Technology 101

truck platooning technology

Platooning has the potential to transform the transportation industry, but we’re not quite there in terms of technology and logistics.

Platooning uses many technologies, including (but not limited to):

  • Self-driving technology
  • Vehicle-to-vehicle communication
  • Sensors
  • Cameras
  • Radar

Many of these technologies are already developed and are being fine-tuned. However, vehicle-to-vehicle communication is still a very new concept.

Bill Brentar, VP of maintenance and engineering at UPS, says one of the biggest challenges will be determining where platooning can fit into a carrier’s operations. Platooning is not something that can happen everywhere. Brentar says there are about 45,000 platooning miles in the U.S., so carriers would need to figure out how to fit those miles into their routes.

Other industry leaders worry that it will be difficult to convince drivers to want to use platooning.

Still, Europe is trying to pave the way for truck platooning, and it’s estimated that the technology will be ready for use by 2025. Here’s what needs to happen in the meantime:

  • Road infrastructure needs to be upgraded to allow for platooning.
  • Platooning technology needs to be further developed.
  • Standards need to be developed.
  • Supportive regulatory framework needs to be developed with standardized rules and exemptions.
  • Joint research projects need to be created to test platooning with different brands.
  • Stakeholder cooperation needs to be improved, including those involved in logistics, road infrastructure, legislators and insurance companies.
  • Platooning needs to be tested in real-traffic conditions to find an optimal convoy size and to see how other drivers react.

Right now, in Europe, we’re at the stage where manufacturers are already beginning to test platooning in real-life conditions.

The H2020 research project, which is funded by the EU, is also in the works, which will aim to develop multi-brand platooning technology and standardize communication rules.

The biggest hurdle will be to focus on vehicle-to-vehicle communication, which is what will reduce the distance between vehicles. Eventually, Europe plans to remove the driver from the controlling of the vehicle.

In the U.S., Peloton, a platooning technology developer, recently announced a Level 4 driverless platooning system.

How Will Truck Platooning Change Supply Chain?

Truck platooning has the potential to change the supply chain in many ways.

  • Improved efficiency allows for goods to be delivered more quickly and efficiently.
  • Driverless vehicles may allow carriers to skirt hours of service regulations.
  • Automated driving technologies improve safety and reduce the risk of accidents, which can damage goods and delay shipping.
  • Single drivers become more efficient and can demand higher pay for mastering a new transportation skill.

Platooning makes it easier and faster to transport goods while allowing drivers to get much-needed rest and work on other tasks. But until we start using this technology regularly, it’s hard to know for sure how platooning will affect supply chain and to what extent.