As it gets closer to announcing the availability of commercial truck platooning, Peloton Technologies laid out the details of how its two-truck platooning system, PlatoonPro, works to ensure safety and security in a new report.
Peloton Founder and CEO Josh Switkes told reporters that the report is “all about transparency” for drivers, fleets, law enforcement, government officials, and the general public.
When asked about when Peloton will become commercially available, Switkes said, “we will be making announcements in the coming couple of months about some of those commercial deployments.”
In the meantime, the report seems to provide a lot of details about how the platooning system will work as it lays out nine safety principles:
1. Build on Proven Technology
“Trucks today are remarkably safe on a per-mile basis,” Switkes said, thanks in part to active safety systems increasingly being offered and spec’d on today’s vehicles. “We’ve built our platoon system on top of those systems,” he said. “We don’t disable those systems. We leave them as is and we’ve worked with partners to integrate those.”
Another proven technology Peloton is taking advantage of is air disc brakes. For the initial launch, participating vehicles will be required to have ADB on the tractor. Participating fleets and trucks also must meet certain inspection and maintenance requirements.
2. Supervise Platooning
“As we started developing the system, we realized if we tried to develop it for every type of road in the world, we’d be at it a very long time,” Switkes said. So, PlatoonPro will be restricted to certain types of roads and conditions.
Using a cloud network and vehicle checks, Peloton will only authorize platoons on controlled-access divided highways, and won’t authorize platooning in inclement weather or in construction zones. Vehicle speeds must be at or below the speed limit while platooning. The platoon automatically dissolves if factors such as wiper usage or stability-control activation signal the presence of bad weather.
This authorization process will initially be rolled out for pairing for two trucks within the same fleet. In the future, it will expand to cross-fleet platoons.
“These days, with all the various autonomous vehicle companies out there touting their safety potential, we’ve seen a lot of people comparing to what we feel are the wrong benchmarks, to the general truck population out there,” Switkes said, “where the modern trucks with active safety systems are far safer than the average truck out there.” At Peloton, he explained, “We want to be proving increased safety, and it really comes down to a very simple principle: When you’re a driver in that platooning truck and the system says you’re ready to platoon, you’re safer after you push that button than you were before. So, it’s really an apples-to-apples comparison – when you platoon you are safer than you were in the same truck, on the same roads, with the same active safety, without the platooning…And this means it’s a far higher bar we’re setting for ourselves.”
4. Implement the Right Functionality
This means “having the system do what it needs to do,” Switkes said, citing seven areas of functionality that help make platooning happen safely:
• Connected Braking. Direct vehicle-to-vehicle communication, based on the industry-standard digital short-range communications, or DSRC, allows two platooning trucks to accelerate and brake together as a single system. This allows following distance to be reduced as perception delay is eliminated, and reaction delay – from the typical braking sequence of perception/reaction/braking – is vastly shortened.
• Platoon ProXimity Dissolve uses radar and camera sensor data to monitor traffic in front of the lead truck. If a car cuts too close in front of the lead truck, the system will dissolve the platoon and separate the trucks to a safe distance, slowing the following truck relative to the lead vehicle, before situations occur that require hard braking.
• Platoon Dissolve allows drivers to dissolve the platoon themselves. When a driver decides to end platooning, the follow-truck system will increase the gap between the trucks until a safe manual following distance is reached. At that point, the following driver takes control using the brake or accelerator pedal.
• Cut-in Detection and Reaction. Platooning drivers likely will recognize a cut-in threat before the system does and are trained to dissolve the platoon to make room for the cut-in. But if they don’t, the system will initiate dissolve immediately upon detection and will also simultaneously alert the drivers.
• Display Awareness Video and Info Display. PlatoonPro provides a video feed from a forward-facing camera in the lead truck. This lets the following driver see vehicles, objects, and road features like entry ramps ahead of the lead truck.
• Voice Communications. Drivers use a hands-free, driver-to-driver radio communications feature, activated by a foot pedal, to communicate about things such as lane changes. “We find the drivers really start using this in a cool teamwork fashion,” Switkes said.
• Cybersecurity. “We’ve used modern security methods to prevent people hacking in and spoofing the signals,” Switkes said. “For jamming, we immediately dissolve the platoon. And all of this has been tested.” Customer data is another area of security focus.
5. Implement the Functionality Right
Even the best planned functionality is only as good as its implementation. Peloton said it has been guided by ISO 26262, an international standard for functional safety, as it implements both hardware and software.
6. Manage Variations in Vehicle Spec and Condition
“Take two random trucks on the highway, and they may have a large difference in braking capability,” Switkes said. They vary considerably in areas such as brake types, wheelbase, cargo, and maintenance. This is one of the primary reasons why truck drivers are instructed to follow at quite large following distances, such as six or seven seconds of time headway, the report said – noting that “in the real world, however, drivers often follow at what are considered unsafe distances.”
Peloton said it has extensively tested the braking capabilities of tractors and trailers under a wide variety of vehicle and road conditions. PlatoonPro uses vehicle-to-vehicle communication to assess two trucks as a possible platoon, including evaluating their relative stopping distances.
7. Keep the Driver at the Center
“We have involved drivers every step of the way,” Switkes said, both employee test drivers as well as drivers and trainers for Peloton customers. They have fine-tuned the system based on their feedback.
Peloton has designed a training program to teach drivers how to safely operate a platoon of trucks, which includes classroom and on-road instruction.
In addition, a frequent concern or question about platooning centers around driver attention. Peloton is studying this.
Platooning requires approval from both drivers. Before platooning begins, the lead driver must evaluate road conditions based on Peloton training. If safe to platoon, the lead driver will press the “All Clear” button. Only then can the following driver press the “Start” button. Either driver can end the platoon at any time.
8. Collaborate with Industry and Government
Peloton explained in the report that it has worked directly with most of the leading truck makers, brake suppliers, and other Tier-1 componnet suppliers. This work has included safety analysis and evaluation, track and road testing and evaluation, implementation of interfaces, and more. The PlatoonPro system is not just an “add on” but has been provided a dedicated interface to the truck control systems, it said.
As for government, at the time of the report’s publication, 26 U.S. states have changed their traffic laws to allow platooning – 18 of those fully authorizing platooning and 8 additional allowing testing or limited deployments.
Peloton has embraced industry standard test methods and developed the tools and test methods to fully validate the system. On-road testing is done only after substantial track testing, and in-lab testing precedes track testing.
The report seems to be part of an overall trend in which those developing platooning systems are emphasizing the safety benefits more than in the past.
“We see that the potential safety benefits here are huge,” Switkes said. “At the same time, we recognize that the fuel savings – we have hard data on that, we’ve tested with fleets and with the government – when we talk to fleet customers they can do the math on whether it’s going to save in their operation.”
There’s simply not enough miles under platooning yet to prove out the numbers for the potential safety benefits in the field, Switckes said; nevertheless he added, “We do see the fleets increasingly interested in the safety benefits.”