June 2015


Truck a platooning offers real benefits says new research

According to the Phase One Final Report of the Driver-Assistive Truck Platooning (DATP) initiative, the trailing truck in a technology controlled platoon can experience as much as 10 percent better fuel economy. What’s in it for the lead truck? Well as much as a 5 percent gain is possible from the improved aerodynamics (it’s complicated). What’s in it for truck fleets? Hopefully some significant operational savings. Given the investment required to deploy the technology--ostensibly in an effort to drive incremental gains in efficiency and safety across truck operations--is the return ever going to justify the capital outlay?

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Exploratory Advanced Research program, The DATP truck platooning research explored the efficacy of deploying radar, vehicle-to-vehicle communications and video technologies to decrease over-the-road truck headways, with the objective of improving fuel economy without compromising safety. “Decrease over-the-road truck headways” is how researchers phrase “closing the gap between semi’s on the road.” But euphemisms aside, truck manufacturers, regulators and fleet owners are continuing to pursue the research, and this latest study supports that assertion, not to mention its aim to further support the adoption of this technology-driven solution.

As a core team member of the project, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) was deeply involved in the project, managing multiple tasks including developing and assessing trucking industry user requirements and leading the project to develope the business case for truck platooning. The DATP study offered some compelling reasons to support the concept’s business case. For example, along with fuel the efficiency gains mentioned above, Phase 1 results identified that:

  • Platoon formation in some operations appears to be feasible, based on a case study using actual truck movement data from ATRI's truck GPS database;
  • Truckload and line-haul LTL operations would likely be the greatest beneficiaries of a platooning system, particularly among larger fleets;
  • Fleets and drivers who operate average truck trips of more than 500 miles would experience the highest returns on investment from platooning;
  • Platooning would not negatively impact traffic flows and just might improve things. Modelers at Auburn University confirmed platooned trucks could improve traffic flows if truck market penetration reached 60 percent; and
  • Small fleets and owner-operators required an investment payback period of 10 months, while larger fleets had a mean payback expectation of 18 months.

The DATP research team is led by Auburn University and includes ATRI, Bishop Consulting, Peloton Technology, Peterbilt Trucks and Meritor Wabco, all ardent supporters of the concept. According to the ATRI press release announcing the study’s Phase 1 results, in Phase 2, the research team will be conducting both test-track and on-road pilot testing of the system. In addition, says ATRI, the team will monitor and assess a variety of human factors considerations including driver satisfaction, driver training requirements and driver operational experiences. The business case analysis will be extended based on these results.

For many in the industry, there’s a certain amount of curiosity regarding this attempt to introduce another (more or less) type of controlling technology into the cockpit. To the industry, the continued the adoption of monitoring and sensing technologies to assure operational excellence across their fleets has become a financial imperative and a competitive reality. For truck operators, the technology (especially platooning) represents a tremendous shift, not only to the traditional, professional role of a driver, but to the human, emotional and behavioral aspects of driving trucks on the road—platooning, to a certain extent, goes against the culture of independence and liberty that continues to attract drivers to the profession.

For platooning to be successful a great deal of cooperation and dedication is going to be required. On the operations side, it’s not so much the technology development, that part is pretty well taken care of. It’s really going to be the protocols and other procedures associated with integrating platooning into practical road operations. Training is another aspect that will require an intensive effort as well. Drivers will be challenged certainly, but differently as they train and become accustomed to the new demands platooning will place on their professional careers. Maybe the fact that being relieved of some of the physical and mental burdens associated with operating a class-8 rig for hours at a time will make traveling over miles of flat Nebraska farmland a bit more enjoyable and safer for everyone. Okay, let’s not get carried away there, but I think you get the point.

The Driver-Assistive Truck Platooning Phase 1 report is available on the ATRI website at www.atri-online.org.


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Arguing that truckers are not solely responsible for the state’s poorly managed infrastructure, the American Trucking Associations urged rejection of a truck-only toll scheme proposed by Rhode Island’s governor. According to ATA President and CEO Bill Graves in an item on Theautochannel.com, “ATA is very disappointed with Governor Raimondo's proposal to address Rhode Island's infrastructure investment deficit solely on the back of the trucking industry.”

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