A New Game for Big Rigs: Fol­low the Leader

Au­tos ▶ Con­voys of heavy trucks can cut fuel use, emis­sions, and traf­fic ▶ “Pla­toon­ing is one of the first steps to­ward au­to­mated driv­ing”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Companies / Industries -

Michael Kropp typ­i­cally spends his days be­hind the wheel of a big, freight-haul­ing truck, nav­i­gat­ing the high-speed curves, of­framps, and stopand-go traf­fic typ­i­cal of Euro­pean high­ways. On a re­cent trip to Rot­ter­dam, he was able to re­lax and take in the sights. Kropp was one of about 30 driv­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing in a test of a new au­to­mated driv­ing tech­nol­ogy called pla­toon­ing, which links trucks via Wi-fi, GPS, sen­sors, and cam­eras so they can travel semi­au­tonomously be­hind one an­other. The lead­ing rig dic­tates speed and di­rec­tion, while the rest au­to­mat­i­cally steer, ac­cel­er­ate, and brake in a closely spaced con­voy. “It was a lit­tle eerie to hand over part of my role as driver,” says Kropp, a 55-year-old test driver for Daim­ler who pi­loted the sec­ond ve­hi­cle in the car­a­van. “But it was re­ally com­fort­able, es­pe­cially in heavy traf­fic or bor­ing stretches of road.”

Although driver­less cars grab head­lines, it may take decades be­fore truly au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles rule the road. In the mean­time, semi­au­to­mated con­voys can help man­u­fac­tur­ers hone the tech­nol­ogy while cut­ting emis­sions and fuel con­sump­tion, says Anders Kell­ström, who man­aged Volvo’s test run to Rot­ter­dam. “Pla­toon­ing is one of the first steps to­ward au­to­mated driv­ing,” he says. “The tech­nol­ogy is ma­ture.”

Driv­ers will still be needed—by law they’ll have to keep their hands on the wheel. But let­ting the rig do some of the

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