Platooning the future
Connecting robot trucks into a platoon on highways will prevent a lot of smog
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.
Three self-steering Mercedes-Benz trucks drove in close convoy across Germany into the Netherlands to show it can be done.