Truck platooning

Truck platooning

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

Increase in goods transport

The transport of goods continues to grow. In 2018, 1.7 billion tonnes 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 abroad.

Expansion of the 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 is it?

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

The lead truck determines the speed and route of the other trucks, which automatically follow the lead truck. Only the first truck in the ‘platoon’ requires a truck driver to control it. If the driver of the front truck brakes, all the other trucks in the platoon real-time brake 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 truck drivers, but they are there to take over the controls, should the need arise. However, the drivers of the next trucks always keep control of the truck. They decide in the platoon when to leave it and continue driving independently.

Why truck platooning?

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

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

Decrease in CO2 emissions
Driving trucks closer together could lead to about 10% reduction in CO2 emissions.

Increasing road safety
TNO (Netherlands Organisation for Applied Natural Science Research) does research on innovations that, among other things, strengthen sustainability projects in the Netherlands.

TNO has therefore run a truck platooning test called ‘ENSEMBLE’ in which the six largest European truck manufacturers are participating. This test will focus 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 towards autonomous platooning. In platooning as a support function, testing is done on communicating between the trucks in the platoon. It checks whether the trucks in the platoon have a safe distance and speed. It also gives the drivers in the platoon information about situations on the road. This allows drivers to react faster to potentially dangerous situations.

How can truck platooning be successfully deployed?

In 2015 to 2018, SmartPort* conducted a study on truck platooning. They argue that 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 already been a number of truck platooning tests. But is truck platooning really as profitable as expected? Daimler (among others, the owner of Mercedes-Benz) says that even if truck platooning were implemented perfectly, 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 thinks the hefty investments in truck platooning cannot be justified.

Daimler’s tests also showed that the platoon regularly broke up. The following trucks then had to accelerate anyway, thus causing extra fuel burn. In addition, passenger cars often invaded the platoon.

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

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