Published on: Apr 05, 2017

Developed by Volvo Trucks and PATH (Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology), the new technology is described as partially automated truck platooning. This was demonstrated recently by Volvo trucks in partnership with PATH at the University of California in Berkeley. The demonstration involved three Volvo VNL 670 model tractors that hauled cargo containers at the Los Angeles Port complex and along Interstate 110 using CACC (Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control) technology. It presented the potential for improving highway safety, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing transportation system capacity to various stakeholders.

The three Volvo VNL tractors moving at speeds of 55 mph kept a closer distance than usual of 50 feet from each other in simulated ‘real world’ conditions. Without the intervention of drivers, speed and spacing was maintained with the help of forward-looking sensors and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. The technology demonstrated easier handling of common traffic situations through staged and unplanned vehicle cut-ins.

According to Magnus Koeck, vice president of marketing and brand management, Volvo Trucks, “Truck platooning can benefit freight companies and professional drivers alike through safer, more fuel-efficient operations. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication is pivotal for platooning systems; it helps reduce the reaction time for braking and enables vehicles to follow closer. Reducing the traveling distance between vehicles not only reduces the aerodynamic drag, but also allows for greater highway utilization, thereby helping to alleviate traffic congestion.”

Wherever a skilled and experienced professional driver is involved, making use of autonomous technology for operations in highways is more effective with platooning systems. It is by far the best option available to truckers looking for automation while operating in highways. However, a much higher degree of automation is possible in environments with limited and clearly defined work dimensions where humans cannot perform. Volvo has already demonstrated a fully automated mining operation with its trucks and this seems to be the best and most feasible application for fully automated vehicles. Other industries like building and construction equipment may also be able to leverage such automation.

Talking about platooning, this may very well be the way to drive on highways in a decade’s time. It began with a project named SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) in Sweden which was supported by EU (European Union) and partly funded by it. Platooning of vehicles as envisaged by SARTRE is basically the formation of a convoy of vehicles with a professional driver leading the convoy. Every vehicle measures the distance, speed and direction and adjusts to the one in front. Vehicles in the platoon have the choice to leave the convoy at any time after following standard operating procedures.