The Federal Highway Administration is overseeing a series of runs testing three-truck platoons on a stretch of I-66 near Centreville, Virginia.
The agency oversaw a successful series of two-truck platoons in Texas last summer.
Both tests are part of a four-year research project to test the effectiveness of state-of-the-art driving and communications technologies.
Truck platooning uses vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology to allow trucks to follow each other more closely – at about one second apart – and travel in a more coordinated fashion. According to a report from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency last year, trucks traveling in a platoon convoy can take advantage of increased aerodynamic efficiencies and see fuel economy increases of from 4% to 7% depending on operational conditions.
FHWA said the Virginia tests taking place now are using partially automated trucks that handle acceleration, deceleration and braking, with professional drivers behind the wheel actively steering the trucks and able to step in if necessary. It emphasized that the advanced technology that makes platooning possible is meant to supplement, not replace, the nation’s commercial motor vehicle operators.
While various aspects of truck platooning have been studied for years, FHWA’s Exploratory Advance Research program has taken testing to new levels with the addition of Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control technology. CACC adds vehicle-to-vehicle communications to the adaptive cruise control capability already available in new vehicles. This connectivity allows trucks to operate more smoothly as a unit, reducing and controlling the gaps between vehicles.
“The future of innovative new technology to help our drivers navigate the road more safely is so full of promise; it’s a future where vehicles increasingly help drivers avoid crashes,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao. “As technology advances, safety is a primary concern of the department, but the benefits of these driving technologies extend beyond safety, including productivity and efficiency on our roads.”
Stepping Stones to Automation
The demonstrations came just days after Secretary Chao and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced new guidelines for Automated Driving Systems, called A Vision for Safety. This guidance is the newest version, replacing previous operating guidance, and offers a more flexible approach to advancing the innovation of automated vehicle safety technologies. The Department of Transportation is focused on collecting and sharing the best ideas and approaches to developing and testing automated vehicle technologies and to ensure that no requirements or regulatory hurdles exist or are introduced that could delay these vehicle safety advances.
“These new technologies have the ability to increase capacity on our highways and make freight transportation more efficient,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Brandye Hendrickson. “With innovations like these, we can get more out of the highway system we already have, relieve traffic congestion and reduce costs to the freight industry.”