New developments in active safety technology have the potential to dramatically transform the trucking industry, perhaps even culminating someday in driverless trucks. As a step in that direction, Silicon Valley startup Peloton Technology has developed a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication system it hopes to begin deploying on a large scale by next year. By tethering two trucks together — “platooning” as it is known — using advanced sensing intercommunications, Peleton says they can improve safety while cutting costs for thousands of trucks on the road.
Platooning simply means one truck or tractor-trailer leading another in a “close-formation platoon” with a 36-ft gap between them, the two connected and that gap managed electronically. The system reduces the wind drag on both trucks, and could therefore save trucking companies millions of dollars in fuel every year. Peloton’s system consists of radar sensors, a wireless communications system, and computers connected to each truck’s central computer. Video screens in both cabs show the drivers views of blind spots around the two vehicles.
Peloton’s CEO Joshua Switkes says the fuel savings are 4.5 percent for the front truck and 10 percent for the rear truck. This could amount to $100,000 each year. “For truck companies, these savings are enormous,” Switkes says. He adds that the technology could even allow competing companies to platoon together to get these savings.
Switkes believes the technology should also improve safety, since drivers have greater visibility and the radar systems can brake automatically if needed. In theory, more trucks could be virtually tethered together this way, although the initial plan is to connect only two.
The prospect of two trucks driving so close together under computer control may be viewed with apprehension by other drivers, but the technology involved, including the V2V communications system used to share information between the trucks, is set to become far more common in the next few years. The U.S. Department of Transportation has indicated that it plans to mandate such communications systems in new vehicles in the hopes of improving road safety. Transport Canada is also said to be supportive of the technology.