Truck platooning – for the environment, for business, for customers

According to a ranking by PwC, Poland currently needs over one hundred thousand professional truck drivers, yet each year the number of people who obtain commercial truck driver’s licenses is unfortunately too low to fill in the existing gap. One way of addressing this issue is for the road transport industry to start using truck platooning, enabling even up to four HGV trucks to be driven by just one driver. This is not the only potential advantage of the system. With environmental sustainability and the need for mitigating the impact of man’s activity on climate change gaining in importance these days, integrated truck platooning can help address these challenges.

What is truck platooning?

Truck platooning is a concept of integrated HGV platoons that use V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) communication. Every truck that rides on the platoon is equipped with an advanced sensor platform, with radars, cameras and GPS. Trucks are also fitted with extensive safety systems e.g. with coordinated adaptive cruise control (CACC) that enables them to communicate with the other trucks or with an advanced emergency braking system (AEBS). Trucks communicate and cooperate via on board Wi-Fi technology. The use of these technologies enables trucks to automatically accelerate, decelerate and follow each other at a gap that’s smaller than in a non-automatically controlled scenario.

One can’t rule out that in the next few years, integrated truck platoons will become a common feature in road transport. The presently used technology assumes a driver is to be present in each truck to monitor steering and to potentially correct truck speeds, yet with the evolution of this system, only the lead truck will in fact need a driver. If autonomous vehicles are approved for road use, it may very well mean that truck platoons will drive around with no driver present.

Project ENSEMBLE or multi-brand truck platooning

ENSEMBLE is a TNO project co-financed by the EU that aims to make multi-brand truck platooning a reality on European roads over the next three years (starting from mid-2018). The project’s main objective is to ensure safety when a platoon is made up of different vehicle brands. The implementation of the concept of multi-brand truck platooning may have a significant impact on reduced fuel consumption and CO2 emissions and simultaneously increase throughput in the road freight industry. Automated, dynamic vehicle control will make truck operations safer and less stressful for drivers. At highway entries and exits as well as at junctions, truck platoons will automatically increase vehicle gaps to give way to other road users.

Each of the six European truck manufacturers (DAF, DAIMLER, IVECO, MAN, SCANIA and VOLVO GRUP) will bring to this project their own pioneering platooning technologies. CLEPA, the European Association of Automotive Suppliers, will represent equipment and components suppliers and will support research, innovation and driver training. The consortium also includes such suppliers as NFX, ZF and WABCO, the ERTICO-ITS Europe platform and knowledge partners e.g. IDIADA (legal issues), IFSTAR (impact assessment on infrastructure, traffic flow, road safety, logistics, and perception by users), KTH (platooning services) and VU Brussel (business case for platooning).

In its first year, the project’s focus will be to establish requirements and develop a reference design with acceptance criteria. Road traffic authorities will be asked to agree on a framework for road approval requirements. In the second year, reference designs will be adopted for roll out by suppliers and OEM manufacturers. The project’s knowledge partners will run an assessment of the project’s impact on infrastructure, safety and road traffic. The third year will see multi-brand platoons being tested on test tracks and on international public roads. Impact on fuel consumption, drivers and other road users will also be established. A multi-brand truck platooning demonstration on public roads is planned for 2021.

Challenges faced by truck platooning

While on the one hand truck platoons help increase safety levels by eliminating human error, reliance on technology and on the lead truck’s driver may dull the vigilance of the remaining platoon drivers. Any interference or a breakdown in communications may have dire consequences. Experts are also pointing out that the reduced gap between platoon trucks means that road surface loading will increase with trucks causing greater loading of a smaller surface area. This poses particular risks when platoons drive across older bridges.

Author: Anna Trzop

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