At the beginning of this year, Daimler used the CES show in Las Vegas to announce it was turning its back on platooning.
“Daimler Trucks has tested platooning for several years, especially in the U.S., where benefits would be expected to be the most substantial. Results show that fuel savings, even in perfect platooning conditions, are less than expected and that those savings are further diminished when the platoon gets disconnected and the trucks must accelerate to reconnect,” said the company in a statement.
“At least for U.S. long-distance applications, analysis currently shows no business case for customers driving platoons with new, highly aerodynamic trucks. Daimler Trucks will, of course, remain committed to all partner projects that are still ongoing.”
Simply put: the famous manufacturer does not see a future for the technology that uses vehicle to vehicle communication to make trucks safer and more efficient.
Could the German giant be wrong? Speaking on a Fleet Owner webinar, Ross Frote from the American Trucking Association (ATA) says his organisation is not ready to discard the technology at a point where several companies from within the industry such as Volvo, Bosch, WABCO and disrupters like Tesla and Pelaton are providing positive proof of concept during trials. Crucially, he says, the technology has got State and Federal support.
“26 US States have changed their traffic laws and implementing a different law to allow platooning. 18 of the US states have fully authorised platooning. 8 are testing or have limited deployments and out of all those collected 26 states they represent 75 percent of US freight movement. So, there are definitely states that are targeted for how fleets can improve their fleet operations, safety and fuel efficiency, all through truck platooning.” He explains.
The ATA has been working with government authorities such as the Department of Transport to provide advice and a voice for the millions of truck drivers and fleets it represents. Significantly, it has helped to secure the beginnings of a standardisation for the technology, starting with agreeing a communication frequency that can be used by all manufacturers that are developing vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2X) devices.
This applies to OEMs as well as companies within the aftermarket. He explains that there are currently over 70 active deployments of V2X data communications utilising 5.9GHz.
“In 2018 alone they had 18,000 vehicles deployed with aftermarket communication devices and over a 1,000 infrastructure devices,” he says. “By 2020 there will be one corridor in each state that will have V2X communication infrastructure making over 2,100 planned. So, if this is the first time you’re hearing about this, or you said the news sites aren’t picking it up, it’s really, really interesting how this is growing secretly if you haven’t been hearing about this information on platooning.”
He adds: “It’s very, very interesting and very exciting for trucking right now, for engineering technology, for everything that communicates. And on top of that in a lot of ways it is great way of how FCC and DoT are working together in trying to figure this out because we’re going beyond engines here, we’re going beyond just the rubber on the tyre, how the tyre meets the road, we’re going very smart with technology on track to improve safety.”
While Daimler is now concentrating its efforts on autonomous technology beyond platooning, Frote sees it as an integral part of the wider development of technology that is connecting vehicles to each other and infrastructure. He believes that the business case will vary depending on the fleet but platooning should be viewed as a powerful tool for them to tap into.
“It’s really good important to remember just how diverse our industry is. And you know you may be a fleet or anybody that might think that’s the best idea ever or maybe not,” says Frote. However you see your company and operation’s fitness to drive your truck and to deliver your load, it is very different to the other 1.5 million carriers in the United States.”
Frote further argues that platooning could ultimately save jobs in a country where the driver is celebrated and the unions remain strong.
“So, it’s really important to see that the technology choices will depend on business operations. It depends on how you operate. You may have 10 trucks and loads going in one direction over 500 miles of road, or you may not. And that’s okay. This is a technology, just like many other technologies, that is dependent on the operation and standards. It is not to be thought of as a driverless type of technology or things that replace the driver. It’s a very supportive technology. We’re here to educate and be supportive of safety and efficiency technology like platooning.”
Providing a European perspective, Dr Amol Mike, product manager, HERE, agrees that platooning has the potential to meet the operational challenges facing the transportation and logistics industry today. Mike adds platooning is part of a spectrum of technologies from both the truck and communications industry that are taking towards vehicle autonomy but can deliver benefits far sooner than driverless trucks – which is still many years away from being practical.
“All these things have to conclude in order for us to push or move towards the final goal of autonomous transport. And I think platooning is somewhere in between that we also have to help and nurture,” he says.
Mike works to enhance products that support end-to-end workflow and transport planning. He is also working at HERE to explore cloud-based services such as maps geo-coding routing, geo-fencing, tracking and others that can be utilised by the fleet industry. Among an ever-growing list of possibilties, he feels platooning could be available in a relatively short time period.
“Right now, I think that the consensus is that it is still single brand scenarios that could be possible in three to five years. But as more and more OEMs invest in the technology, more carriers opt in, it is going to be more inter-fleet, more multi-branded more with more ad hoc scenarios. These will create new possibilities for platooning,” he says.
Mike says HERE believes that platooning can shape a business case for fleets and make significant cuts to fuel use, reduce insurance premiums and improvements to the bottom line.
“Now is also the time for the discussion on driver safety and comfort. We’re also trying to quantify the benefits of platooning through a more coordinated, more systematic ways of driving. So, a lot of this is about manoeuvring, accelerating and automatic braking, and how that might add to drivers comfort in driving and how that be used to reduce dangerous crashes.”
HERE has been working with a logistics company that is contracted by the European arm of a “large US burger chain” in Europe. Mike explains that HERE was asked to analyse tens of thousands of routes to identify opportunities for platooning.
“We had to dive deep into their logistics network; finding long stretches of highways,” he explains. “It actually gave us a strong reason for platooning because on these strategic routes there were significant improvements over several transports. This was made transparent for the management to see for themselves; what they can use platooning for and how they can go forward and invest into it.”
While the business case was there, he said that they then encountered problems with permits and regulations restricting where it could be used. Citing an example of a German trial of platooning, he says, however, that the regulatory groundwork is being done to allow platooning fleets to become a reality. While that opens a potential minefield, particularly across borders, ultimately, says Mike, platooning is a technology that deserves government backing.
“We believe that this technology has to be invested into because it is laying out the foundation for autonomous trucks.”