Truck platooning

Truck platooning

Truck platooning, there have been tests of this ‘principle’ for years. But what exactly does truck platooning mean? What does it yield and can it be successful? We have listed the facts for you.

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Increase in freight transport

The transport of goods continues to grow. In 2018, 1.7 billion tons of goods were transported to, from and in the Netherlands. That year compared to 2017 gave an increase of 1.2%. Many of these goods come from or go to foreign countries.

Expansion of infrastructure, such as (rail) roads, (air) ports, canals etc. is not always an option to meet the increasing freight traffic. Therefore, truck platooning might be a solution.

What’s truck platooning?

Truck platooning is the automated and direct following of trucks in small convoys of 3 to 5 trucks. This is possible because the trucks are electronically connected, by sensors mounted on the trucks such as a camera and radar, and by wireless communication.

The first truck determines the speed and route of the other trucks, which automatically follow the first truck. Only the first truck in the ‘platoon’ requires a truck driver to control it. If the driver of the first truck brakes, all other trucks in the platoon brake in real time with the same dosage. In addition, when a new truck approaches or joins the platoon, it automatically connects with the other trucks.

In the trucks behind the first truck (the ‘following’ trucks), there are actually truck drivers, but they are there to take over the controls, should things go wrong. However, the drivers of the following trucks always retain control of the truck. They decide in the platoon when to leave it and drive on independently.

Why truck platooning?

Truck platooning would be primarily good for traffic flow, but also for:

Saving on fuel
The trucks in a platoon drive behind each other at the same constant speed. In addition, they have less air resistance, because the truck in front of them absorbs it. This saves on fuel.

Reduction of CO2 emissions
Driving trucks closer together can lead to about a 10% reduction in CO2 emissions.

Increased road safety
TNO (Netherlands Organization for Applied Natural Science Research) conducts research on innovations that strengthen sustainability projects in the Netherlands, among others.

TNO therefore has a truck platooning test running called ‘ENSEMBLE’ in which the six largest European truck manufacturers are participating. This test focuses on two different types of platooning: platooning as an autonomous function and platooning as a support function.

Platooning as a support function is the first step toward autonomous platooning. Platooning as a support function involves testing the communication between the trucks in the platoon. This system checks whether the trucks in the platoon are maintaining a safe distance and speed. The drivers in the platoon also receive information about situations on the road. This allows drivers to react more quickly to potentially dangerous situations.

How can truck platooning be used successfully?

In 2015 through 2018, SmartPort* conducted a study on truck platooning. They state that a successful implementation of truck platooning requires a ‘digital platform’. It also requires good cooperation between logistics planners and transporters. They need to share (transport) data with each other. This data can be about which trucks are available for platooning, but also to determine the order in which to drive.

*SmartPort is a company that, among other things, is a knowledge platform and supports scientific research related to accelerating innovations in the Port of Rotterdam.

An ideal image or still employable?

There have been a number of truck platooning tests. But is truck platooning really as profitable as expected? Daimler (the owner of Mercedes-Benz, among others) says that even if truck platooning were perfectly executed, the fuel savings would still be much lower than the 4% that should theoretically be possible. Tests in the US states of Nevada and Oregon even show that the benefit is below 1%. Daimler therefore considers the substantial investments in truck platooning unjustifiable.

During Daimler’s tests, it was also found that the platoon regularly broke up. The following trucks then had to add throttle anyway, which thus caused additional fuel burn. In addition, there were often passenger cars that penetrated the platoon.

Despite this, TNO wants to continue the research on truck platooning. They believe that Daimler’s research should be compared with the other studies recently conducted (by TNO). Only then can statements be made.

TNO is expected to present the results of their truck platooning test ‘ENSEMBLE‘ in May 2021.

Sources (mostly in Dutch):