Is platooning a solution for the future ?
- 3 min
At a time when steps are being taken to restart the global economy, the transport and logistics sector is also looking for ways to get itself back on track. When considering various measures to improve efficiency and control costs, ecological concerns are still part of the equation with actions such as platooning for heavy vehicles. But is this a solution for the future?
With the temporary suspension of economic activity due to the coronavirus, companies are more than ever being forced to take concrete steps to absorb the cost of the crisis. The logistics sector is no exception. Environmental considerations however are still on top of their minds with measures such as platooning.
The principle is simple: platooning is about connecting a train of lorries together with only a short distance between them for a motorway journey. The first lorry is driven in the usual way by a driver while the others are interconnected with it thanks to V-to-V, (Vehicle To Vehicle, this is a communication protocol between vehicles that will be able to be gradually generalized thanks to the rise of 5G). They then react automatically to the driver’s manoeuvres. The drivers of the following vehicles must however keep their hands on the steering wheel in order to be able to react in case of emergency. Over recent years, all heavy vehicle manufacturers have been working on developping this process and it is now possible to test in operational conditionsto create close-coupled lorry trains.
A proven system
After numerous tests over several thousands of kilometres, the various systems builtby lorry manufacturers have proved their worth. Platooning makes it possible to achieve fuel savings of 5 to 10% on the following vehicles as they can benefit from suction from the previous vehicle, it’s the absence of aerodynamic friction that allows these gains as air is the main resistance to moving forward. This is an important factor given that fuel remains the most important cost for hauliers.
Platooning is also synonymous with efforts to reduce CO2 emissions which is becoming a more important factor for shippers. As the task of driving for the follower drivers is much less tiring, it is possible to consider increasing their driving time thus improving profitability.
Obstacles limiting its adoption
Although platooning has certain advantages, it is difficult to foresee its evolution in the coming years. There are numerous issues hindering its adoption. A number of very specific requirements must be met simultaneously: journeys must take place on a motorway at stable speed, over long distances and with a minimum of vehicle entries and exits. Platooning therefore only applies to some of the road traffic. The market needs to become more structured in order for manufacturers to invest more in this solution. There are also technical challenges to overcome; during long distance testing, lower engine cooling was observed due to the reduced air flow which can lead to reliability long term problems.
Also, it is not currently possible to put together lorry trains from different manufacturers. The Ensemble European project (standing for ENabling SafE Multi-Brand pLatooning for Europe) currently focuses on creating system interoperability to allow multi-manufacturer convoys. Lastly, the Highway Code will need to be changed along with the definition of responsibilities with regard to insurance (who is responsible in the event of an accident?) or working on social acceptability both with regard to the drivers and other road users. Platooning is a promising solution but may not enter general use for a number of years.