Pla­toon­ing the fu­ture

Con­nect­ing ro­bot trucks into a pla­toon on high­ways will pre­vent a lot of smog

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - — Wheels Reporter.

THREE con­nected and au­ton­o­mous Mercedes-Benz Ac­tros trucks last week drove in con­voy from Stuttgart in Ger­many to Rot­ter­dam in the Nether­lands.

Noth­ing weird in that, as thou­sands of trucks do this route ev­ery day. Ex­cept that these trucks — as shown by the very re­laxed driver in the im­age — steered them­selves. And they fol­lowed so close to each other they could al­most be mis­taken for trucks on our N3 high­way.

The ex­er­cise formed part of the Euro­pean Truck Pla­toon­ing Chal­lenge 2016, ini­ti­ated by the Nether­lands gov­ern­ment, but it is safe to say Daim­ler leads at the moment, as it is the only group whose ro­bot trucks have of­fi­cial road ap­proval world­wide and in five other Euro­pean coun­tries, where it com­petes with the likes of Sca­nia, Volvo, and Daf in the rally.

The cross-bor­der self-driv­ing demo came just two weeks af­ter the world pre­miere of its High­way Pi­lot Con­nect sys­tem on the A52 high­way near Düs­sel­dorf.

The High­way Pi­lot Con­nect is a world­wide sys­tem that con­nects au­to­mated driv­ing of heavy trucks. By adding slip­stream­ing to this mix, Daim­ler says it can save even more fuel.

To slip­stream the trucks re­quires close fol­low­ing dis­tances, which Daim­ler does safely us­ing elec­tronic ve­hi­cle-to-ve­hi­cle (V2V) net­work­ing.

Un­like a hu­man driver, who will take about 1,4 sec­onds to re­act, V2V re­acts within 0,1 sec­onds to the sig­nals from the truck in front, with the whole brak­ing or ac­cel­er­at­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

This much faster re­ac­tion time can make a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to­wards re­duc­ing rear-end col­li­sions such as oc­cur when en­coun­ter­ing traf­fic jams on mo­tor­ways. The quick re­ac­tion time also al­lows the trucks to “dock”, or drive pla­toon style with very close fol­low­ing dis­tances on mo­tor­ways and long-dis­tance high­ways.

As any driver on the N3 who is cas­ing a low con­sump­tion bonus will tell you, by fol­low­ing only 15 in­stead of 50 me­tres be­hind a truck, the truck in the back scores a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in wind re­sis­tance — what cy­clists and car rac­ers know as slip­stream­ing.

The short dis­tance of the con­voy of only 80 me­tres also al­most halved the usual 150 me­tres of road space the trucks would have used. Bear in mind, un­like South Africa, all trucks on Euro­pean roads have enough power to pull their loads, so the en­tire slow lane moves at a steady 80 km/h, with none of the angst our driv­ers ex­pe­ri­ence when they have to duck in and out of the spray of truck wheels to pass.

Us­ing Daim­ler’s FleetBoard tele­met­ric sys­tem that con­nects ve­hi­cles to a cen­tral server to pro­vide a de­tailed analy­ses of an en­gine’s per­for­mance dur­ing a drive, Daim­ler could show the three trucks had logged a fuel sav­ing of up to 10%, re­duc­ing CO2 emis­sions by the same mea­sure.

The emis­sions that are not be­ing spewed out by the trucks are what has the truck builders most ex­cited. They say con­nected driv­ing in the form of a truck-pla­toon can spare the air in Europe mil­lions of tons of car­bon diox­ide each year, with at­ten­dant ben­e­fits to help slow down cli­mate change.

EU Coun­cil pres­i­dent Dr Wolf­gang Bern­hard, re­spon­si­ble for Daim­ler Trucks & Daim­ler Buses in Daim­ler’s Board of Man­age­ment, was on hand to send the trucks off from the Mercedes-Benz mu­seum for their two-day trip. He said pla­toon­ing will form a mean­ing­ful part of the in­te­grated ap­proach in which all stake­hold­ers in road trans­port con­trib­ute to re­duce fuel con­sump­tion and CO2.

“Driv­ing in a con­voy is one of nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples to raise the per­for­mance of goods trans­port ex­ten­sively with con­nected trucks.

“To­day al­ready 365 000 com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles of Daim­ler are con­nected. We are con­se­quently push­ing this devel­op­ment,” Bern­hard con­tin­ued.

“The world­wide trans­port of goods is a pre­req­ui­site for eco­nomic growth. Trans­port­ing more goods in the fu­ture re­quires in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions like truck pla­toon­ing. Daim­ler’s smart trucks have the po­ten­tial to make the trans­port of goods sub­stan­tially more ef­fi­cient, more sus­tain­able and safer in the com­ing years,” he said.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

Three self-steer­ing Mercedes-Benz trucks drove in close con­voy across Ger­many into the Nether­lands to show it can be done.

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