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Many truckers who have served in the armed forces will be familiar with being in a platoon. And they may soon be enlisted in another type of platoon that uses technology to solve two of the trucking industry's main challenges: safety and fuel efficiency.
Down the road apiece, but well before the horizon, is a system known as 'platooning,' which connects two trucks and their drivers via Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communications. Electronically coupling the trucks allows the rear truck to react immediately to the actions of the front truck so that they can accelerate and brake together and safely operate at closer distances in a platoon.
While drivers always maintain primary control of their trucks, using V2V is sort of like using cruise control, but even safer because the technology has much faster reaction times (about 30 milliseconds compared to 1 to 1.5 for the likes of us). In addition, always-on radar sensors alert drivers about slow or stopped vehicles in the distance or to apply the brakes when needed. And because the second truck is drafting behind the lead truck and actually gives it a bit of a push, platooning is said to save a combined 7% on fuels, using U.S. industry standard tests.
Before they begin the platooning process, drivers need to get approval from an online cloud-based system that adjusts for environmental conditions and other considerations. The system also notifies drivers of potential pairings depending on their location and destination before they head out or en route.
The U.S. military hosts platooning demonstrations and recently the Department of Transportation shelled out $1.5 million in grants to universities studying the technology. Companies in Europe and Asia are also are experimenting with truck platooning.
While all of this may sound like platooning is soon to be part of a trucker's daily life, there are still many questions about the technology. For example, what happens when the following truck needs to move faster than the one in front of it? How much training is involved? Can the system take into account how heavy the trucks are, what shape are the tires in and are the brakes working well? Will trucks need to be built with platooning in mind? Is it even worthwhile given today's new, highly aerodynamic trucks?
As it is, platooning does not work in the rain or snow and is still too complicated. Developers will also need to go through years of safety testing before the public accepts it. In the meantime, more research is underway and we will have to wait and see if platooning becomes commonplace or becomes just another bump in the trucking technology road.
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