Volvo Group Venture Capital, a subsidiary of the Volvo Group, announced an investment in Peloton Technology, which is developing a truck "platooning" system, which would allow trucks to save fuel by traveling in a close-following, semi-autonomous "platoon" on the highway.
The Peloton system builds on advanced safety technologies such as collision mitigation and adaptive cruise control systems. It electronically couples trucks through a combination of vehicle-to-vehicle communications, radar-based active braking systems and proprietary vehicle control algorithms. The result is enhanced collision avoidance capabilities and increased fuel efficiency for the front and rear trucks in a two-truck platoon.
A study of Peloton’s system by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency and a major fleet, using the industry standard SAE Type II test, showed reductions in fuel consumption of 10% for the rear commercial vehicle and by more than 4% for the front vehicle. Other U.S. and international studies of truck platooning have also shown high levels of fuel efficiency improvement.
Peloton, based in Mountain View, California, also is developing a Platooning Network Operations Center, a cloud-based service that helps trucks find platooning partners, collects vehicle and driver data and allows the approval or adjustment of platooning parameters.
“The societal demand for reduced traffic congestion, as well as improved safety on our nation’s highways, will continue to drive the need for innovative advanced technologies, such as platooning,” said Stephen Roy, president of Mack Trucks North America.
“Volvo Trucks has long been a leader in offering advanced technology to our customers, and we were the first OEM to lead a platoon,” said Goran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North America.
In Europe, Volvo Group has been involved in a project called Sartre (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), which has successfully tested a road train, led by a commercial truck driven by a professional driver, followed by a number of autonomously driven cars. It builds on safety systems built into the vehicles, such as cameras, radar and laser senros, to monitor not only the lead vehicle but also other vehicles in the vicinity. Wireless communication allows the cars in the platoon to mimic the lead vehicle, accelerating, braking and turning the same way as the leader.
During a panel discussion on "The Road to the Self-Driving Truck" last month at the Mid-America Trucking Show Fleet Forum, Susan Alt, Volvo Group senior vice president of public affairs, showed a video of the Sartre test with a car driver reading a newspaper behind the wheel as the car automatically keeps itself in line in a platoon behind a Volvo truck. "The actual driving of the road train is handled by a professional truck driver" supported by state of the art technology, she said.
"The study has shown it is technologically possible and could be reality in five to 10 years," Alt said. "What could take time is legislation and public acceptance."
For instance, she said, platooning would violate tailgating laws. And in fact practical concerns could trump the legal ones, she said. "What happens if a car cuts in front of a platoon?" she said in a question and answer session. "That's why you will only have platooning on certain roads under certain conditions with certain drivers."
While the Peloton system only calls for two trucks, Alt said theoretically there could be more vehicle in a platoon, including cars as in the Sartre project.
During that same panel discussion, Sandeep Kar, global director of commercial vehicle research with Frost & Sullivan, predicted that we will see platooning introduced in North America around 2018 or 2019 and that more fully automated trucks would follow.