Trucking is an industry that could be shaped significantly by autonomous vehicle tech in the coming years, and enabling heavy haulers to roll along in tight formations known as platoons could be a key part of this future. Startup Peloton has an interesting new take on this concept, describing an automated following system that would effectively allow a human to drive two trucks at once.
Everyone from Daimler, to Toyota, to the UK government are exploring the possibilities around truck platooning, an as yet experimental technology but one that could have a substantial impact on the transport sector.
It is couched in vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology, with autonomous trucks continuously broadcasting their position on the road to others in a fleet. This would allow the trucks to travel much more closely than they would if humans were in control, which can reduce congestion, accidents, fuel use and carbon emissions.
And the numbers around fuel savings are nothing to be sneezed at. Daimler, for example, says its fuel usage could improve by as much as 10 percent thanks to the aerodynamic benefits of having trucks trailing tightly behind a leading vehicle. Peloton, a California-based autonomous vehicle company, says its existing customers’ trucks average fuel savings of more than seven percent.
Its newly announced Automated Following feature could up the game again, by allowing truck drivers to pair their vehicle with another to allow both to be controlled by a single driver at the same time. Using radar-based braking and the company’s vehicle control software, the paired truck follows the lead of the human-controlled vehicle in front, copying its steering, acceleration and braking along the way.
In a way this isn’t too different from the basic premise of truck platooning, enabling central control over individual vehicles, but does promise to greatly simplify the process. There’s no word on how far it is along with its testing, but Peloton says this approach of balancing human nous, or intellect, with advanced autonomous technologies could double the productivity of truck drivers.
“We see the drivers as the world’s best sensors, and we are leveraging this to enable today’s drivers to be more productive through automated following platoons,” said Peloton Technology CEO, Josh Switkes.
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