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Platooning does not seem a viable business

Newer trucks have better aerodynamics making the save of petrol deriving from platooning much less significant. Image credit: SupplyChainDive

Daimler, a major player in truck manufacturing, has been pioneering platooning for the last few years. As technology has progressed and made possible -and affordable- the linking of several trucks into a convoy a few manufacturers started exploring the benefits. There should be two main benefits: decreasing drag, hence the cost of fuel and decreasing the number of drivers, something that in places like the US experiencing truck drivers shortage should be very appealing.

Trials, so far, have been carried out in Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Georgia (this latter by Waymo) in the US and in Nordic Countries (Volvo), mostly Sweden, in Europe where traffic conditions and long stretches of roads are the norm.

In spite of the promises, Daimler published a press release announcing they are abandoning platooning to focus on highly automated trucks with plans to invest half a billion € over the next few years. The results from platooning has shown fewer benefits on the side of fuel consumption, even in the best condition. This is due to the increased aerodynamics of newer trucks and to the fact that it is practically impossible to keep the convoy in a platoon for the whole length of travel. The acceleration required to re-form the platoon is further decreasing the save of fuel. The same need for breaking and recomposing the platoon makes impossible, today, to use a single driver for the whole platoon, each truck in the convoy needs to have its own driver.

The business motivation is not there, the potential savings do not balance the extra cost needed to equip trucks to support platooning.

The 5 degrees of vehicle driving automation. Daimler is focussing on level 4 for its future generation of trucks. Image credit: SAE International

Hence, the decision of Daimler to focus research resources on creating highly automated trucks (level 4). Truck automation is different from car automation. It needs to take into consideration the bigger size and mass of the truck, and corresponding different responses to acceleration and braking. Daimler intends to use radar, LIDAR and image cameras processing all data they provide to create a continuous monitoring of the truck in the ambient. This requires high capacity processing on board. Additionally, the automation system will be duplicated to have a redundant back up in case of malfunctioning.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.