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  6. Trucks like beads on a string

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Trucks like beads on a string

Drivers on the A9 freeway will be able to witness an interesting research project: the “platooning” system, in which electronically networked trucks drive in close succession as a convoy.

The date is set for June 25: On the A9 freeway between Munich and Nuremberg, two networked trucks will drive for the first time in real traffic scenarios on public roads. The starting signal will be given today by Federal Minister of Transport Andreas Scheuer at the DB Schenker office in Neufahrn, near Munich. “Platooning” refers to a vehicle system in which at least two trucks drive behind each other at a close distance (“slipstream”), with the aid of driving assistance and control systems. The lead vehicle sets the speed and direction of travel.

The distance between the two vehicles can be reduced to around ten meters, or half a second. The primary aim of platooning is fuel savings of up to ten percent by means of slipstream driving which is created by this procedure. The second effect is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. While the truck driver in the first truck provides some help in steering the convoy (although technology takes over much of the work here, too), the driver of the second truck only monitors the technology – and intervenes in an emergency.

Aerials, cameras, laser scanners

For the platooning, manufacturer MAN has equipped the participating DB Schenker trucks with additional aerials, cameras and laser scanners. The vehicles constantly exchange information with each other about the state of the convoy, its speed, acceleration, deceleration and GPS position via Wi-Fi. This enables the corresponding impulses to be transmitted between the vehicles within a few milliseconds.

The aim of the current tests on the A9 is to demonstrate that everything will work in real operation, on public roads and with professional truck drivers from DB Schenker rather than test drivers. And that on a busy German autobahn. In addition to ensuring the technology is faultless, one of the other questions will be: How will other road users react to “big rigs” traveling so closely? The answer to this will determine how often the digitally networked truck convoy will have to be uncoupled and reconnected. The more frequently this happens, the lower the ultimate fuel savings will be.

“Closing ranks” with platooning – managing growth

Manufacturer MAN has already proven in various predecessor projects such as the European Truck Platooning Challenge in 2016 that platooning works in general. However, says Dr. Frederik Zohm, Executive Board Member for Research and Development at MAN, “the challenge is to adapt this technology to actual day-to-day logistics operations.” That’s what is happening now.

Autonomous and networked driving will fundamentally change road freight transport in the next few years. If more trucks drive on freeways using the platooning system and thus can “close ranks,” this will save a great deal of space. The federal government expects that road freight transport will grow by 40 percent by 2030. Platooning will help to manage this growth.

Human beings still at the center

Since starting cooperation in May 2017 and the official handover of the test vehicles by MAN in February 2018, truck drivers have been prepared for their role in the project through intensive training. The psychosocial and neurophysiological effects of the new technology on the drivers in the platoon are being researched by the third partner in the project, Frenesius University of Applied Sciences, with an accompanying study. In this way important experiences made by the truck drivers will be documented, allowing their job profile to be further refined.

  • What is Platooning?

    Platooning refers to a traffic system currently being developed in which several vehicles travel in very close succession with the aid of a technological control system, and without impairing traffic safety. The vehicle system, consisting of at least two trucks, is connected together using driving assistance and control systems (car-to-car communication) in such a way that the distances between the trucks are as short as twelve meters, or half a second. The first vehicle leads, and sets the speed and steering angle. Electronic coupling transmits the commands given by the first vehicle to all subsequent vehicles, guaranteeing traffic safety. Platooning relieves strain on the driver and reduces fuel costs and CO2 emissions. However, it requires a change to the road traffic regulations concerning safe distances between vehicles. Currently, the regulations prescribe a minimum distance of 50 meters between trucks on a freeway.