A report on the first phase of research into the possible benefits of truck platooning technologies showed that all trucks in a platoon gained fuel efficiencies, with the lead truck gaining as much as a 5 percent improvement while the trailing truck got up to 10 percent improvement.

The study, which was conducted by Auburn University’s GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory, along with partners Peloton Technologies, Peterbilt Motors, Meritor-Wabco and the American Transportation Research Institute.

As part of the Federal Highway Administration’s advanced research project on heavy truck cooperative cruise control, the first phase of the study looked at the commercial feasibility of driver assistive truck platooning, or DATP.

DATP makes use of available vehicle-to-vehicle communications and other technologies such as adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance systems, radar, GPS data and other systems to allow two or more trucks to “platoon” in a very tight formation at highway speeds, thereby reducing drag and helping all trucks in the platoon gain mpg benefits. The trucks constantly maintain a communication link which allows them to share data. If the lead truck’s collision avoidance system activates its adaptive cruise control to slow down, the following truck or trucks will do the same.

The first phase gathered industry input for a preliminary case analysis and also looked at technical issues such as system modeling, aerodynamics modeling, research for developing algorithms for platooning formation, human-machine interface evaluations and other aspects of the technology.

According to the report on the research released by ATRI, “the going-in hypothesis was that DATP technology is near market-ready for industrial use and will provide value in specific roadway and operating conditions for heavy truck fleet operations.”

DATP technology builds on adaptive cruise control, which has been available in the trucking industry for several years. The report said there were approximately 100,000 Class 8 trucks on the road now with adaptive cruise control. Adding to the functionality are collision mitigation systems, which have also been on the market for some time.

Some key findings:

  • Truckload and line-haul LTL operations would be the most likely fit for early adoption of DATP.
  • A majority of fleet managers contacted said such a system would have either a positive impact or no impact on driver retention and 39% said they felt drivers were likely to use a DATP system.
  • Owner-operators response was more toward the “negative end of the scale” the report said and owner-operators would want a ROI payback within 10 months, while fleet respondents expected a payback within 18 months.
  • Using models based on historical traffic slows, researchers at Auburn found that platoon formation would not cost truckers excess time.
  • The “most challenging aspect,” of DATP, according the report comes down to who to platoon with. Most fleets would prefer platooning with their own trucks, while owner-operators would prefer platooning with other owner-operators, with only 7% of surveyed owner-operators willing to platoon with large fleets and 5% of large fleets willing to platoon with owner operators.

Phase II of the study will focus on system testing using donated Peterbilt tractors equipped with the Peloton system and performance testing systems, specifically wireless communications, vehicle control, positioning, driver comfort and safety.

Additional information can be found at www.atri-online.org.