‘Trains’ of trucks (truck platooning) will be driving on our motorways before the end of the year. It makes road transport faster, cheaper, cleaner and safer while at the same time increasing road capacity. Large companies such as Albert Heijn, Jumbo and Unilever are embracing this innovative concept. Preparations for the first real practice tests are already underway.
Lower fuel consumption. Lower CO2 emissions. Fewer traffic jams. Improved road safety with fewer accidents such as rear-end collisions. Improved traffic flow. Drivers are more rested, so they are more productive. Faster transport. Truck platooning has benefits for everyone involved. It has many other benefits too, so it seems that trucks driving cooperatively in a convoy have a rosy future. We set out the benefits in this article, together with brief explanations.
1. More space on the roads (and motorways)
When platooning, two or three trucks that are connected over a Wi-Fi link drive in convoy. The truck at the front determines the speed and route. The other trucks can follow just a short distance behind (10 metres), freeing up more space on the road. Thanks to the Wi-Fi connection between the trucks, each vehicle can simultaneously brake and accelerate, which avoids jerky vehicle movements and the resultant traffic jams. As a result, the goods get to their destinations more quickly. An additional benefit is that platooned, virtually linked trucks do not overtake one another. All other road users benefit from the associated increase in road capacity and reduced risk of traffic jams.
2. Fuel saving
Truck platooning can produce fuel savings of up to ten percent. These cost savings also mean that – in addition to faster (thus more efficient) transport – the business community, shippers and carriers want to get started with truck platooning as soon as possible.
3. Cleaner road transport
4. Enormous interest among the Dutch business community
Large businesses such as Unilever, Albert Heijn and Jumbo are very interested, and want to get started with truck platooning as soon as possible. Being keen to adopt technological innovations like this, they are already in talks with government and the transport sector to see how and when they can start using truck platooning. Within a few years, truck platoons will be travelling from the port of Rotterdam throughout Europe, and along other key transport corridors as well.
"Within a few years, truck platoons will be travelling from the port of Rotterdam throughout Europe, and along other key transport corridors as well"
5. Government supports and encourages the initiative
The European Truck Platooning Challenge took place on 6 and 7 April 2016 at Maasvlakte 2, near Rotterdam. Melanie Schultz van Haegen (the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment) attended the Challenge and praised the result of this initial, large-scale international test in Europe. “Vehicles that drive themselves contribute to road safety, as most accidents are currently the result of human error,” she stressed. Moreover, together with her counterparts in the European Transport Council, she plans to harmonise European rules for roads and drivers to facilitate larger-scale, cross-border transportation by means of truck platooning. See also: www.eutruckplatooning.com.
6. Many EU countries have already signed up
At the European Truck Platooning Challenge in early April, it emerged that many European countries have already established special admission requirements (exemptions). Trucks equipped with platooning technology must undergo separate type approval procedures in each individual country.
7. Every major European truck manufacturer is participating
All of the major European truck manufacturers (DAF Trucks, Daimler Trucks, Iveco, MAN Truck & Bus, Scania and the Volvo Group) took part in the European Truck Platooning Challenge in April. None of them wants to miss the boat when it comes to deploying a highly promising technology in new and existing vehicles. In addition to mono-brand convoys, multi-brand platoons are also an option.
8. The technology has been developed
The technology for automated, cooperative driving consists of a combination of sensors that ensure that distances between the vehicles and objects in the surroundings can be accurately determined. In addition to these sensors, there is a WiFi-P connection. This allows vehicles to share information, which enables them to drive as close as possible to one another. There are also systems that support automatic braking and acceleration, as well as smart software (platooning algorithms) that allows all these systems to work together safely and reliably. All this allows a second vehicle to automatically follow the leading combination. The following distance between the two combinations is currently about 0.5 seconds, which – at a speed of 80 km/h – corresponds to a distance of about 10 metres. Later, in 2025, the distance will be further reduced to the expected optimum of 0.3 seconds. Robbert Janssen, who works on sustainable transport and logistics at TNO in Delft, explains that this is partly dictated by aerodynamic considerations, and partly by the need to prevent, wherever possible, other vehicles from entering the spaces between the trucks.
9. Tried and tested technology
The EcoTwin combination was developed in the context of TNO’s five-year Follow Me Truck Platooning programme. The consortium responsible for this consisted of DAF Trucks, NXP, Ricardo (a British technology consultancy), and TNO. Thanks to a fast and advanced WiFi-P connection, specifically developed for automotive applications, the two DAF trucks are able to drive within 10 metres of one another. The same WiFi-P technology enables the drivers of the EcoTwin combination to communicate with one another while they are driving. The view seen by the driver of the first truck is projected onto a screen in the second truck, to provide the driver of the following vehicle with additional visual support. Otherwise, he can see very little of the road ahead. In practice, aural communication has also been shown to be very welcome, says Bastiaan Krosse, Automated Driving Programme Manager at TNO in Helmond. “This enables them to discuss situations, such as whether or not to overtake the cars ahead of them. While this technology is not a prerequisite for platooning, at this stage it does help us to learn about it.” If required, the second EcoTwin vehicle can also be automatically steered, but the emphasis during the European Truck Platooning Challenge was on independently accelerating and braking.
"WiFi-P technology enables the drivers of the EcoTwin combination to communicate with one another while they are driving"
10. The real practical tests will start soon
The logistics industry is now very enthusiastic about truck platooning, and has embraced the concept. As a result, preparations are currently underway for real long-term tests in real-life situations. “We are now moving from controlled demonstrations to on-road pilot testing,” says Robbert Janssen of TNO. “That means using real vehicles, with real drivers on real roads, in real mixed traffic and with real loads.”
11. Platooning service providers already have the necessary facilities
If it is to succeed, truck platooning must be flexible. Individual trucks must be able to join the platoon and leave it out again at any time. This involves taking account of matching factors such as driving periods and rest periods/schedules, destination, and physical characteristics such as motorization and load. As neutral entities, platooning service providers can propose and arrange matches.
12. This innovation has support throughout Europe
Europe is the global leader in truck platooning. The 2025 Vision for Truck Platooning was drawn up by TNO and Rijkswaterstaat. A clear vision for the future has been developed in consultation with fifteen different stakeholders from the European Truck Platooning network. These include truck manufacturers, research institutes, logistics service providers, policymakers, road authorities, industry and insurance companies. Robbert Janssen emphasises that rather than being a purely Dutch affair, this innovation therefore has support throughout Europe. “Thanks to the strong business case, truck platooning has an excellent chance of achieving long-term success.” Bastiaan Krosse adds that “We want to ensure that the commercial application of truck platooning will be technically and legally possible by 2020. The planned pilot tests will be enormously helpful in this regard.”
Robbert Janssen emphasises that rather than being a purely Dutch affair, this innovation therefore has support throughout Europe