Platooning: The Evolution of Trucks in Autonomous Driving Age

Platooning, the concept of driving vehicles a few feet a part of each other, will reduce emissions and fuel consumption going forward, as a way for corporations to address climate change in their operations.

Increased corporate awareness of climate change in recent years, alongside fluctuations in oil prices, has imposed the necessity for many corporations to lower dependence on fossil fuels in critical areas of their operations, such as the transportation of goods. New regulation for the automotive industry in the EU and US has trended towards stressing the need to reduce emissions to address climate change; forcing manufacturers to find innovative ways to make operations fuel efficient. Daimler AG, a German automotive manufacturer, and one of the largest truck manufacturers in the world, is investing heavily in autonomous driving to try and address some of these challenges[1]. On a larger scale over time, this transformation will lower the carbon footprint of the organization on the environment, and at the same time lower the transportation costs of goods, vis-à-vis lower fuel consumption, as fuel accounts for a significant portion of the operational costs of heavy duty vehicles (HDV)[2].

In May 2015, Daimler introduced its first fully licensed self-driving semi-truck onto US highways[3]. As Daimler integrates these autonomous vehicles on an initial smaller scale, making an impact in the shorter-term is being address through the techniques and methods applied. A recent study found that a driving method known as platooning, where a fleet of vehicles drives a few feet apart from each other reduces air drag, saves up to 7% in fuel[4]. In September 2017, Daimler announced that it had begun testing the technique of platooning in Oregon after receiving permissions from the Oregon Department of Transportation[5] to begin to integrate more autonomous vehicles into operations in the medium term. According to Roger Nielsen, CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, “[platooning] stands for more efficiency and safety.”[6] These efforts have been enabled by advances in technology that allow faster communication between vehicles, essentially lowering the response time to less than that of a human, thereby allowing vehicles to drive very close to one another[7].

Daimler’s testing of this technology at this stage will provide it an advantage in the marketplace going forward. Daimler’s prioritizing of innovation places the corporation in the forefront of technological evolution as well as in a position to shape related policy in the US and Europe. These changes have the potential to help grow Daimler’s market share, as well as set a new standard for the truck industry to adopt platooning, and reduce costs and consumption of fuel. In the longer-term autonomous truck driving will also decrease the number of road accidents through eliminating to element of human error in operational necessity.

While Daimler is putting many resources into autonomous driving[8], there are other ways the organization could invest in increasing its fuel savings costs following the lead of competitors like Tesla or Nikola Motor Company. For example, Tesla is working to develop electrical trucks[9], while Nikola is developing hydrogen-powered electrical autonomous-driving trucks to lower fuel costs[10]. Both companies are coupling the technology of electric vehicles with platooning to further address environmentally problematic aspects, and reduce the carbon foot print[11][12]. As such, Daimler should do more to explore incorporating alternative energy sources, such as biofuels and electricity, into operations, to decrease the dependence on fossil fuels, and further increase fuel cost savings.

To be successful, Daimler needs to work closely with governments worldwide to create a regulatory framework that will allow the adoption of platooning technology. Daimler will also need to ensure customers that autonomous trucks in general, and platooning specifically, will provide significant benefits to the industry and market at-large. Furthermore, Daimler will need to demonstrate that the benefits derived from these operational changes are worth further investment in these technologies and worth the battle this kind of industry shift will bring with traditional stakeholders like drivers and unions over issues of job elimination through automation.

Looking forward, a main question that remains will surround the cost savings of platooning at scale with multiple autonomous vehicles. Today most businesses transport goods using only one truck at a time – how will businesses and manufacturing need to transform to realize these potential gains? At cost, which players will be able to afford the fleet-scale needed to create the opportunity to benefit from this model?

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[1] Daimler. (2017). Autonomous Driving – Mobility of the future | Daimler. [online] Available at: https://www.daimler.com/innovation/autonomous-driving/ [Accessed 8 Nov. 2017].`

[2] Nourmohammadzadeh, A. and Hartmann, S. (2016). The Fuel-Efficient Platooning of Heavy Duty Vehicles by Mathematical Programming and Genetic Algorithm. Theory and Practice of Natural Computing, pp.46-57.

[3] Valdes-Dapena, P. (2017). Self-driving semi hits the road. [online] CNNMoney. Available at: http://money.cnn.com/2015/05/06/autos/self-driving-truck/index.html [Accessed 8 Nov. 2017].

[4] Weber, R. (2017). Platooning could save 7% in fuel. [online] Trailer/Body Builders. Available at: http://www.trailer-bodybuilders.com/trailer-dealers/platooning-could-save-7-fuel [Accessed 12 Nov. 2017].

[5] Communications, D. (2017). Daimler Trucks tests truck platooning on public highways in the US. [online] Prnewswire.com. Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/daimler-trucks-tests-truck-platooning-on-public-highways-in-the-us-300524729.html [Accessed 12 Nov. 2017].

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Daimler. (2017). Autonomous Driving – Mobility of the future | Daimler. [online] Available at: https://www.daimler.com/innovation/autonomous-driving/ [Accessed 8 Nov. 2017].

[9] https://readwrite.com/2017/08/11/tesla-self-driving-semi-truck/ Accessed 11/9/2017

[10] Nikola Motor Company. (2017). Nikola Motor Company. [online] Available at: https://nikolamotor.com/one [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

[11] Power, D., Curry, D. and Lawrence, C. (2017). Tesla Working On Autonomous Platooning For Electric Semi-Truck. [online] ReadWrite. Available at: https://readwrite.com/2017/08/11/tesla-self-driving-semi-truck/ [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

[12] Transport Topics. (2017). Nikola Motor Promises Prototype Electric Class 8 Truck This Year. [online] Available at: http://www.ttnews.com/articles/nikola-motor-promises-prototype-electric-class-8-truck-year [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

 

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4 thoughts on “Platooning: The Evolution of Trucks in Autonomous Driving Age

  1. While the possibilities for autonomous vehicles for the trucking industry are essentially endless, the impact the new technology will have on the environment and climate change is particularly interesting. It’s interesting to see that techniques, such as “platooning”, can reduce fuel consumption and an organization’s carbon footprint in the short term. However, I wonder if the lowered costs from autonomous trucks will lead to higher demand for transport in the long run, resulting in net more trucks, more miles driven and a larger impact on the environment.

  2. Autonomous trucks, in general, through better control over acceleration, deceleration and idling, will significantly improve fuel efficiency. Platooning is a very interesting operational benefit that can only be achieved by autonomous trucks that can drive in close proximity to each other by having close communications and reaction times faster than human drivers. Transportation companies like FedEx, UPS and DHL will benefit from both autonomous driving and in particular platooning, as they have multiple trucks driving between major sortation hubs that could use this technique.

    Open communications standards, though, will be the key to success. Without these, platooning may only be possible between Daimler trucks, and not competitor autonomous vehicles, which ideally should also be able to take advantage of this concept.

    While platooning is an interesting concept, it seems to me that environmental benefit can be readily derived from the use of alternative fuel technologies like LNG, CNG, hybrid, and all-electric vehicles. These applications are available now, and not dependent on future autonomous technology and regulation for fuel savings. It will be interesting to see what efforts Daimler has been making in this area as well.

  3. I enjoyed this article, because I find it interesting to consider innovation in the trucking industry, since this is an established industry that has experienced only incremental change in the last few decades. The concept of “platooning” also made me think about self-driving technology in the commercial section. When we talk about autonomous-driving vehicles, the conversation is usually centered on personal vehicles and the benefits we will experience directly as drivers. However, your article reminds me that the commercial trucking industry is also a major stakeholder in the advancement of self-driving technology. Here, the benefits to consumers are enormous – safer roads, cheaper goods, faster delivery times, and less crowded highways.

  4. Great article! I especially liked two points you pointed out: 1) This effort needs to tightly involve the truck OEMs, a systems operator in order to make the concept accessible to other trucks, and the government to push the infrastructure. 2) Platooning is not enough to achieve long-term emission goals. Daimler needs to think about electrical concepts.

    Volvo has recently developed a electric truck transportation concept for Germany. Volvo would work with Siemens to develop trucks that would be fueled by overhead electrical wires. They have estimated that in total ~4000 km overhead lines are needed in order to outfit Germany’s roads for long distance electric hauling. On off-highway road the trucks are expected to run on batteries. This concept is currently being tested in Sweden and as a further step the trucks are expected to be equipped with autonomous driving functions. I think that Daimler needs to get involved as soon as possible in the development of the new concept in order not to miss out on its long-term opportunities to significantly reduce its carbon footprint.

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