Two-truck platooning is not self-driving trucks

Oct. 24, 2016
There are fuel efficiency gains, but it requires training for drivers and technicians

Our recent Confidence Report on platooning showed that there is a real-world average mpg gain of 4% for the pair of vehicles in a two-truck platoon, with most of the savings going to the follower vehicle.

In doing our research for the Confidence Report one thing became clear for platooning to be a success there is a need for training. First the drivers will need to know how the system will react to a variety of road situations. They also will need to learn to know when to trust the system and when it’s time for them to take total control of the vehicle. Technicians will also need to be trained to maintain these more complex vehicles and trouble shoot a range of newer technologies, electronics and sensors.

Remember we are still in the early stages of these systems and much will be learned by field testing and early production use. Engineers are not omniscient and highways have a lot of variables that the trucks and drivers must deal with.  So, while we have made good progress we still have a long way to go.

Speaking of drivers, one of the most interesting findings from the report concerns the perception that two-truck platooning requires driverless trucks.  In other words, two-truck platooning is not fully autonomous/driverless trucking and it is being improperly grouped with that concept.  This is unfortunate because the benefits are large for this use of currently available safety technologies and for this misconception to be a barrier surprised out project team.  In the study package, NACFE offers a payback calculator and we think fleets big and small should put platooning on their list of emerging technologies to explore.

Who knows if self-driving trucks will come sooner or later, but I think that an excellent bridge to those days is two-truck platooning utilizing our professional drivers to take most advantage of all the benefits it offers.  Whatever your job in the trucking industry, have a look at the autonomous evolution, not revolution that we are making.  Drivers are critical as they were when we moved to cruise control, automated transmissions and all the other automation we’ve already implemented.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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