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Truck Platooning: The Next Evolution of Driverless Trucks

Driverless trucks and cars are being talked about more and more in the transportation industry. Most recently, in case you missed the news, six groups of driverless trucks made history by completing the first cross-border voyage in western Europe. The future is here.

If you find the idea of large trucks careening down roadways unmanned a bit scary, don’t worry. The term “driverless,” is loose, computers run the show, but human drivers back them up. Modern role reversal. 

The real inspiration for this article is the new term I learned this week: Truck Platooning. 

According to the American Journal of Transportation, truck platooning describes a situation where a series of vehicles “use technology to enable drivers to move more closely to each other in convoy than would be safe if he or she were not using them.” The Guardian adds that in this scenario, the leading truck determines the route and speed while the grouping drives in convoy. Think about it like a drafting scenario in Nascar with the same goal of reducing drag. But the truck platoon is controlled by a platoon leader of sorts who pre-programs the route. 

Why You Should Care

Truck platooning isn’t an effort to automate driver jobs or the lazy man’s solution. It’s primarily concerned with safety, fuel savings, and efficiency. Some early test runs in the UK with truck platoons saved between 15 and 20 percent on fuel due to reduced caravan spacing. “Truck platooning will ensure cleaner and more efficient transport,” said Melanie Schultz van Haegen, Dutch infrastructure and environment minister. “Self-driving vehicles also contribute to road safety because most accidents are caused by human failure.”

While it’s unclear if these platoons will ever be completely driverless, test runs are in place to assure fail-proof operational safety.

Despite the EU primarily leading efforts in this technology, the US has also stepped up to bat. Daimler US got permission in Spring of 2015 to drive their new Freightliner Inspiration Truck down US Highway 15 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Driver Implications

If you’re a carrier, you won’t be out of the picture in the future, your role may just change a bit. Sven Ennerst, Head of Truck Product Engineering at Daimler, predicts “a change in the organisation of the freight forwarding industry” when platoon trucks are commonplace. “The driver will take over many of the traffic planner’s functions. He will become more of a transport manager than a driver.”

 

Looks like drivers might have to change their title to “Platoon Leader” in the future. Pretty catchy, ey?