As fleets and transportation companies try to figure out the best way to save on fuel without negatively impacting efficiency, platooning has become an increasingly attractive option. Yet, platooning technology has evolved quite a bit over the last several years. Trucking companies today can invest in platooning technology that takes different makes and models of trucks into account.
For trucking companies trying to make the most of available technologies, platooning is an attractive option, but there are still some barriers to entry. What is a motor carrier to do if they are looking to invest in a platooning technology they can count on?
Thanks to active safety systems being offered and installed on new tractor trailers, trucks – on a per-mile basis – are very safe compared to even just a few years ago. A comprehensive and proven platooning system should be able to build on current active safety technologies, rather than replace them. Proven technologies should be able to integrate technologies already in use.
Invest in Proven Technology
Companies manufacturing platooning software solutions in some cases now require that certain active safety technologies are included in the initial vehicle build. One example of this is air disc brakes. While Air disc brakes may seem like old news these days, motor carriers looking to invest in a platooning situation – in many cases – must have air disc brakes installed.
It is also important to ensure you are properly supervising the rollout of a platooning program. Consider it from the perspective of the route your truck drivers will be running. If you try to develop a platoon program for every type of road, you will be working on it for a very long time. If you are going to use a platoon solution, doing so on a route that has familiarity prevents unnecessary risks.
Many platoon providers offer their services through a cloud network and vehicle checks. If a vehicle is driving in inclement weather or through a construction zone, many systems will not function. Vehicles using these new technologies will generally only be allowed to operate in controlled access situations.
The way this works in real-time is actually quite incredible. As one example, if wiper usage or stability-control is active, the system can dissolve the platoon and the truck driver then takes over. Many platooning providers only offer these functions with two-truck platoons, but it will likely be rolled out to larger fleets over time.
One of the most important aspects of a successful platooning program is benchmarks. While modern trucks with active safety systems are far safer than those without, when trucks are platooning, it requires a special set of instructions. The question is, when a truck driver decides to turn the platoon system on, is he or she safer than they were before they hit the button?
When trucks are in a platooning configuration, the system managing that platoon must be able to provide a greater level of safety than that of a truck driver themselves. What kind of functionality does the system offer?
A connected platooning system should do several things. One, does it have a direct vehicle-to-vehicle connected braking system? Advanced platooning systems should use an industry-standard digital short-range communication system to provide acceleration and braking functionality to all vehicles within the group.
When it comes to proper braking and following distance, there is a certain perception delay that needs to be accounted for. The typical braking sequence follows a perception/reaction/braking model. Yet, that is where humans are concerned. Effective platooning systems should be able to eliminate any reaction delay.
Platooning systems should also use active radar and camera systems to monitor traffic in front of the lead truck. If a car cuts off the lead truck, the system should dissolve the platoon and separate the vehicles to a safe distance. The point is this: The system should change the paradigm before a situation occurs that requires hard braking.
Truck drivers themselves should also be able to dissolve a platoon. If a truck driver chooses to dissolve a platoon, the system should increase the gap between the trucks in the platoon until a safe distance is achieved. Once the safe distance is achieved, the truck driver should be able to take control using the brake and accelerator pedal.
Advanced platooning technologies should also recognize a cut-in threat before the truck driver and dissolve the platoon. They do this by using a forward-facing video feed from a camera on the lead truck. Both the platoon system and the truck drivers can see other vehicles, hazards, road features, and more. When truck drivers in the platoon need to communicate with each other, a hands-free solution can be installed.
One question remains: How secure are these systems? Can hackers take control of the platoon by gaining access to the underlying software? If a platoon system encounters some type of jamming or signal spoofing, it will immediately dissolve the platoon and notify the truck driver.
To ensure the system meets the requirements for implementation, many OEMs rely on ISO 26262, which provides an internationally-recognized standard for hardware and software safety. As platooning systems are developed all over the world, a common standard must be applied to ensure safety no matter the application.
It is also important to consider that trucks have different capabilities. No two trucks brake the same or accelerate the same. From wheelbase to cargo and more, trucks are unique. That’s why truck drivers are always instructed to leave a large distance between them and the truck in front of them, even if this is not always applied in real life. Platooning systems are designed to take the differences between vehicles into account.
It’s About the Truck Driver
No matter what system you choose, it is critical that truck drivers are involved in the process every step of the way. From test drivers to those actually using the system on the road, human feedback is critical to ensuring the system functions properly and safely. Comprehensive platooning systems should come with a training program to teach truck drivers on how to safely drive in a platoon of trucks.
A platoon requires approval from both truck drivers. Before a platoon can be initiated, the lead truck driver needs to take a close look at road conditions based on the training they received. If road conditions merit, they can send an all-clear and set up the platoon. If a platoon needs to be ended, either driver can end it.
Collaboration is key in a platoon, but it is also key in developing the technology. Platoon software and hardware makers must partner with industry and government to ensure the vehicle components being produced are compatible with platooning technologies. Systems must be evaluated for safety, track and road testing, interface development and more.
Manufacturers are embracing industry standard test methods to fully validate these systems. They do not release a new system without putting it through extensive track and in-lab testing. The last thing anyone wants to do is release a platooning system that results in an accident or unsafe conditions. The fact is, there are big safety benefits to platooning. Additionally, platooning saves time, money, fuel, and truck driver frustration.
Big truck manufacturers are also getting in on the platooning game. Many have come out with proof of concept videos where they demonstrate how the technology works. As OEMs partner with companies creating the platoon systems, the technology will quickly mature. Still, not every truck manufacturer is convinced that platooning has a future in trucking.
Daimler recently came out stating that “there is no business case for truck platooning.” Their press release stated that the benefits of platooning were somewhat underwhelming after they completed several pilot studies. They went on to say that conditions need to be ideal to get the most benefit out of platooning and, in many cases, they rarely are.
While there are not yet enough miles under platooning to prove the technology infallible, over time, as more fleets adopt it, platooning will become a more viable option. With local governments also taking notice, it is only a matter of time before we see widespread adoption. And although not all truck manufacturers are on board, far too many systems are being tested for them not to see the light of day.
With the number of states allowing platooning increasing by the day, expect these systems to continue their evolution. As of today, 26 states have modified their traffic laws to allow platooning on their roads. Another 8 states are currently reviewing platooning and testing potential deployments. It won’t be long before you are driving down an interstate highway and several of the big rigs you pass up are all part of a platoon. The future of platooning is now.