Electric and autonomous trucks may have garnered increasing attention in recent months, but technology that offers perhaps the most potential for improved performance and impact on supply chains is being tested as well.


With help from the Virginia State Police, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) conducted a two-day demonstration of three-truck platoons on I-66 in Centreville, Virginia, demonstrating the results of a four-year research project to test the effectiveness of new driving and communications technologies. Driving an eight-mile course on the state highway, the trucks were able to maintain a following distance between trucks of 45 feet to 50 feet at 55 mph—a following gap of just 0.6 second, the administration reports.


FHWA said the Virginia tests used partially automated trucks that handle acceleration, deceleration and braking, with professional drivers behind the wheel actively steering the trucks and able to take control if necessary. While various aspects of truck platooning have been studied for years, FHWA’s Exploratory Advance Research program has taken testing to new levels with the addition of Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control technology, which adds vehicle-to-vehicle communications to the adaptive cruise control capability already available in new vehicles. This connectivity allows trucks to operate more smoothly as a unit, reducing and controlling the gaps between vehicles, the administration explains. According to a report from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency last year, trucks traveling in a platoon convoy can take advantage of increased aerodynamic efficiencies and see fuel economy increases of from four percent to seven percent, depending on operational conditions.


“These new technologies have the ability to increase capacity on our highways and make freight transportation more efficient,” Acting Federal Highway Administrator Brandye Hendrickson said at the event. “With innovations like these, we can get more out of the highway system we already have, relieve traffic congestion and reduce costs to the freight industry.”


The platooning test used trucks from Volvo Trucks North America and a control system from Peloton Technologies. Researchers from the University of California’s Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology program (PATH) are also part of the Volvo team.


However, there have been other demonstrations of platooning technology both in Europe and the U.S. In particular, last year, more than a dozen trucks produced by six of Europe’s largest truck manufacturers made a platooning trip across Europe, which included border crossings. The tests were conducted to monitor the viability of platooning as a means to ensure cleaner air through reducing fuel consumption and traffic congestion, as well as improving road safety by preventing accidents caused by human failure, Dutch infrastructure and environment minister, Melanie Schultz van Haegen said. What’s more, Daimler Trucks North America LLC recently announced it has received permission from the regional regulatory body, Oregon Department of Transportation, after successful trials in its proving ground in Madras, Oregon, and consequently will begin “pairing” tests of two connected Freightliner New Cascadia truck trailer combinations on public roads soon.


Trucks represent the most commonly used mode of transportation for freight shipping, with FHWA estimates saying trucks move 63 percent of the total tonnage of goods transported in the U.S., and FHWA further expects the volume of freight moved annually by trucks to more than double over the next 25 years. With those numbers in mind, federal officials expect truck platooning to dramatically enhance mobility on the country’s highways.


What impact would truck platooning have on your supply chain if it indeed delivers reduced fuel consumption, faster delivery times and minimized traffic congestion, as well as improving road safety by preventing accidents?