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Supply Chain News: Successful Test of Truck Platooning in Europe Likely to Move Technology Forward, While Automatic Braking for Trucks in the US Years Away


Six Euro Truck Makers Drive Tandems Thousands of Miles to Port of Rotterdam, in Big Success

April 13, 2016
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Six convoys of "smart trucks" travelling in so-called platoons arrived in the port city of Rotterdam, Netherlands last week after an experiment its organizers say will revolutionize future road transport on Europe's busy highways.

The platoon concept involves groups of two or three trucks with electronic communications travelling together. The route, speed and braking are controlled by the lead vehicle, with the trailing trucks responding in tandem. Truck manufacturers participating in the Rotterdam test were DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania and Volvo.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Ultimately the systems will need to be designed so that trucks from different manufacturers can communicate and work together in a platoon.

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The connectivity enables the trailing trucks to travel with much less space between them then would never be safe with human drivers in control. (See photo below.) This reduction in the gap protects the trailing trucks from some contact with the air, improving the aerodynamics. That improvement, plus travelling at more consistent speeds, improves mileage for the platoon by as much as 10%, proponents say.

The trucks in this test still each had human drivers, who could take over the control at any time if needed, but the ultimate goal here is for driverless, autonomous trucks, certainly in the trailing vehicles at least, to be operational someday in the not too distant future. The semi-automated approach is likely simply a stepping stone on the way to this brave new world.

Platooning advocates say that in addition to the fuel savings benefits, platooning trucks will actually be safer, reducing the number of accidents caused by failure to brake in time, as the machines can react to a stoppage ahead much faster than humans.

Truck platoons should also squeeze vehicles onto the road given increased vehicle density and thus improve overall traffic flow.

Truck platooning will ensure cleaner and more efficient transport. Self-driving vehicles also contribute to road safety because most accidents are caused by human failure," said the Dutch infrastructure and environment minister, Melanie Schultz van Haegen.

There are still challenges ahead. That includes standardizing regulations across the European Union countries, which currently have a patchwork of such rules. In addition, in this test each platoon was made up of trucks from the same manufacturer. Ultimately the systems will need to be designed so that trucks from different manufacturers can communicate and work together in a platoon.

The Netherlands, which holds the revolving EU presidency, will hold an informal summit soon to discuss changes to regulations needed to make self-driving transport a reality, It will also soon release more detailed data on truck performance in the test, which appeared very successful based on just pure observation.

There of course is also interest in the US in self-driving trucks and platoons, though the country seems well behind Europe in the effort. There was one test of an autonomous truck on public roads last year in Nevada, and two years ago, also in Nevada, there was a successful test of a truck platoon. (See New Technology Promises Improved Safety and Better Mileage Rates through Platooning Trucks.)

(See More Below)



Automated Braking for Trucks in US Likely Still Many Years Away

Although recent agreements among federal safety regulators, the insurance industry and automakers will put lifesaving automatic braking systems on most light vehicles by 2022, it will be many more years before large trucks and commercial vehicles get the same technology.

These new systems - just starting to appear on passenger vehicles - recognize the car or light truck is about to rear-end another vehicle or other obstacle and automatically trigger the brakes.

The European Union now requires forward-collision warning and automatic braking on most new heavy vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway, but U.S. regulators are taking a slower, more cautious approach that will delay the rollout for years, Heavy Duty Trucking magazine recently reported.

The Department of Transportation wants to first make sure the technology is safe to use in big-rigs before giving its regulatory blessing, which is likely to slow deployment of these systems in the US for many years.

With over 10 million commercial vehicles on U.S. roads, there is broad agreement that this is an important safety issue. Trucks are involved in accidents that result in about 4,000 deaths annually, though many of these are not the fault of the truck driver and/or do not involve a read-end crash that this technology might prevent

Still, a study be research IHS found that automatic emergency braking, or AEB, reduces rear-end crashes by 39% for cars compared with similar autos lacking the option. For rear-end crashes with injuries, the reduction is even greater - 42%, so the opportunity generally from the technology would appear to be substantial.

Collision prevention systems like AEB would decrease truck fatalities by roughly 44% to 47%, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

That's why four key industry groups are calling for AEB to become standard in the trucking industry.
Last month, the Truck Safety Coalition, the Center for Auto Safety, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and Road Safe America filed a petition asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make AEB mandatory for new trucks.

Do you think this truck platonning concept holds great promise? What are the drawbacks? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


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