The Whole Platoon: Europe's trucking challenge

Volvo, Iveco, Scania, MAN, and DAF rival Daimler in the European Truck Platooning Challenge

Volvo’s three Globetrotter were emblazoned with their platoon role to broadcast the message far and wide.
Volvo’s three Globetrotter were emblazoned with their platoon role to broadcast the message far and wide.

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While Daimler has a habit of stealing the limelight when it comes to the testing future technologies on the Autobahn, six top truck manufacturers, including Volvo, Iveco, Scania, MAN and DAF Trucks are participating in the ‘European Truck Platooning Challenge’ initiated by the Dutch government as part of their EU presidency to demonstrate platooning technology.

The platooning concept is to have truck fleets communicate wirelessly to automatically match each other’s speed and braking — enabling them to close the gap between them to just one second in order to boost efficiency and improving their fuel economy. Drag accounts for up to 25% of a truck’s total fuel consumption, so the closer together the trucks drive, the greater the fuel-saving potential.

Although counterintuitive, having trucks match each other’s speeds is also a safety-boosting feature. “Essentially, this means that the reaction time for braking is reduced to zero, which in turn improves safety and minimises the ‘accordion effect’ in connection with traffic congestion,” says Anders Kellström, project manager for Volvo’s participation in the EU Truck Platooning Challenge.

It is currently not possible to commercially utilise the advantages of platooning on Europe’s roads, since legislation in the various countries governing the safe driving distance between trucks differs.

The government of the Netherlands initiated the European Truck Platooning Challenge to promote the technology and highlight the changes required in EU transportation legislation to facilitate the introduction of platooning.

The Volvo Group participated by driving three trucks in a platoon from Gothenburg to Rotterdam, and Kellström notes: “We believe that platooning offers major advantages for our customers, and for society — through fuel savings, reduced emissions and enhanced transportation efficiency. We need to tackle the harmonisation of legislation, and promote the introduction of platooning in Europe.”

MAN Truck & Bus deployed a convoy or ‘platoon’ of two MAN TGX 18.480 semi-trailer tractors on a drive from Munich to Rotterdam — where all six participating manufacturers were subsequently hosted on 6 April 2016 ahead of a meeting of EU transport ministers. Joachim Drees, Man Truck & Bus CEO, said: “Economy and environmental compatibility will require new strategies in the future. While consumption in the traditional automotive industry can only be adjusted to a limited extent through improvements in aerodynamics, lightweight construction and drive technology, digital innovations can deliver significantly greater economy.”

Franz Freiherr von Redwitz, managing director of MAN Truck & Bus Middle East, added: “As an industry leader, we are committed to exploring new technologies and initiatives that can improve the overall performance of the changes that will come into place in the transportation industry in the future due to the impact of such digital innovations.”

MAN likens the platoon system to an ‘electronic tow-bar’, whereby the longitudinal and lateral control of the vehicle to the rear is automated — and where each vehicle follows the truck in front. A distance between each semi-trailer of under 15 metres equates to around half a second of driving time.

‘Slipstream driving’ is a dangerous practice when performed by individual drivers looking to save on their truck’s fuel consumption by illegally cutting close to other trucks, as it reduces their visibility and, by shortening the truck’s following distance, their reaction time.

However, set up in the right way, it enables fuel savings, which, depending on vehicle type and the length of the convoy, can amount to up to 10% for the whole platoon — bringing with it a reduction in CO2 emissions. The desired effects are best achieved at a speed of 80kmph.

As a member of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), CNH Industrial’s commercial vehicle brand undertook the challenge with two heavy-duty Iveco Stralis trucks driving from Brussels to Rotterdam.

Pierre Lahutte, Iveco brand president, commented: “Iveco is committed to face the technical challenges at vehicle level, and promotes an integrated approach with the other transport stakeholders to address open topics such as the revision of regulations and the compatibility with infrastructures and other road-users. Platooning represents for Iveco a step into the future to keep providing our customers with the most sustainable transport solutions.”

Iveco previously demonstrated its truck platooning technology on the test track in 2003 within the Chaffeur 2 Project, funded by the 5th Framework Program of European Union.

Now under development for 13 years, the objective is to increase the profile of truck platooning and provide a clearer and wider understanding of the associated benefits.

Truck platooning is also part of the industry’s integrated approach to further reducing CO2 emissions, which looks at all elements that affect emissions when operating a truck. Besides the vehicle itself, trailer design, the use of alternative fuels, logistics, infrastructure and intelligent transport systems all have a decisive role to play in bringing down CO2 emissions.

The challenge also tested a range of different technologies, with each company using its own systems to allow the truck to communicate with each other — typically based on Wi-Fi of one form or other — but not interchangeable with the systems of other manufacturers.

By way of example, DAF Trucks explained that its trucks communicate using 802.11p Wi-Fi, which is designed for use in vehicles, but also allowed its trucks to communicate with each other. Wi-Fi-P allows the drivers to talk to one another and is used to transmit a video of what is in front of the lead trucks to those following. DAF also employs radar and cameras to inform its platooning system and says that the combination allows its trucks to respond up to 25 times more quickly than a human-being, with the trucks slowing down before our eyes can even perceive the vehicle in front braking.

Scania went ahead with the largest platoon formation — involving a combination of three 32m-long trucks articulated at the mid-point.

“If I say it’s hectic, that’s an understatement,” says programme director Dirk-Jan de Bruijn. “This challenge was the moment our network had been working towards for months — but looking at the follow-up, what matters is to keep the belief in an innovative perspective on mobility and logistics that’s kept us together.”

Upon the arrival of the platoons in Brussels, Violeta Bulc, EU transport commissioner, stated: ‘This is the very first successful cross-border platooning experiment. I have no doubt that the lessons learnt will feed our current thinking on connected, cooperative and auto-mated driving, and support our efforts towards a general roll-out of intelligent transport systems, resulting in smarter roads.”

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