I think we got ourselves a (self-driving) convoy

Self-driving vehicles are not necessarily automobiles: there are a number of projects looking into tractors, or as we saw last week, the use of trucks on international routes to carry freight. The European Truck Platooning Challenge saw convoys of partially self-driving trucks built by DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania and Volvo make their way across the continent to Rotterdam, Netherlands, where they arrived on April 6.

The longest route, covering some 2,000 kilometers was taken by Scania’s platoon, and which left Södertalje to the south of the Swedish capital of Stockholm, then crossed into Denmark, through Germany, and into the Netherlands. Volvo’s team left from Gothenburg, while Daimler’s fleet started from Stuttgart, MAN from Munich, IVECO from Brussels, and DAF from Westerlo, in Belgium. The initiative, coordinated by the Dutch presidency of the EU, and that also included the participation of logistics companies Unilever and DHL, was transmitted in real time by Twitter via the #TruckPlatooning and also included photos and videos.

Platooning is a form of automated driving that means shorter gaps between convoys of trucks supplied by technology that allows them to react to changes in speed by the vehicle in front more quickly than human drivers. This leaves more space left for other vehicles on the road, as well as fuel savings of up to 15% by using the slipstream created by the truck in front. Traffic is also said to flow better due to the constant speeds and smoother speed changes of platoons. In short, platooning is the future of road haulage.

As commented in previous blogs, automated driving will not begin with private cars, given the cost of the technology involved, but instead will be done through road haulage, where there are huge savings to be made in costs and time. Some aspects of it are already being used to save fuel and improve delivery times, while Google has already patented self-driving delivery trucks.

The next phase of platooning will see convoys of trucks pick up goods in Rotterdam and then distribute them to a range of European destinations. A few issues still need to be ironed out: for the moment, the trucks in the platoons need to be of the same make, given that each manufacturer has developed its own communication protocols; and then there is the question of the road safety requirements in different countries, but the technology is basically fully developed.

So, the next time you see several lorries driving what seems to be too close behind each other, you could be seeing platooning in action: trucks coordinated electronically and driving themselves. And if that isn’t science fiction come to life, I don’t know what is.

(En español, aquí)

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