Volvo Takes On The European Platooning Challenge With Semi-Automated Trucks

Volvo Group have been partners of the European Platooning Challenge for some time and they  have shown interest in truck platooning technology in the past but on March 18, they announced that they will also be participating. Their three semi-automated trucks are leaving on March 31 from Gothenburg and going to the Netherlands.

The European Platooning Challenge

Organized by the Netherlands as current President of the Council of the European Union, the European Platooning Challenge aims to get as many governments and companies together in order to push the boundaries of technology and introduce platooning to Europe.

Besides Volvo, there are five other companies that plan on sending their own platoons: Scania, DAF, Daimpler, Iveco and MAN. All companies are sending their convoys on the same date and they are expected to arrive in Rotterdam on April 6, in time for the Intertraffic Amsterdam exhibit.

The countries taking part in the challenge are: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden.

The end goal of the European Platooning Challenge is to show the world the efficiency of platooning and get as many countries as possible to authorize platooning inside their borders. The people involved hope to introduce semi-automated trucks to the general market by 2020, the year all self-driving car manufacturers are pushing for.

The advantages of semi-automated trucks

Truck platooning means a group of trucks, equipped with state-of-the-art driving support systems driving very close to each other. While it may not be obvious at first, not only is the technology necessary for achieving this quite advanced but the benefits it could bring are also quite impressive.

There are three main advantages to platooning:

  • Improved safety: the semi-automated trucks are connected so the ones in the back follow the one in front. This means that reaction time between the trucks is zero. If all the trucks were simply driven by people, there would be the risk of an accident, event if the trucks were further apart.
  • improved fuel consumption: Since the semi-automated trucks drive very close to each other and at a constant speed,there is much less drag. As a result, the trucks use up to 25% less fuel and emit less CO2 into the atmosphere.
  • improved efficiency: the small distance between trucks also mean that they take less space, improving traffic.

The technology behind platooning

It would be extremely dangerous for normal trucks to move so close to each other, they rely on a WiFi, GPS, radar and other kind of system connections in order to drive safely in close formation.

Since the technology is still in the testing phase, all the semi-automated trucks that will participate in the challenge will have their own driver as a backup. This is merely for safety reasons as the goal is for them to travel only with the help of the front driver as he’s actually steering the platoon.

The platoon doesn’t just follow the leader. Instead, all semi-automated trucks send information to each other. A goal of the European Platooning Challenge is to eventually legalize completely autonomous platoons using swarm intelligence.

The planned route

Starting from Gothenburg, Sweden, the trucks will travel trough Denmark, Germany and Belgium before reaching their destination in the Netherlands, Rotterdam. They will travel about 1500 km and make a detour to Brussels.

In order to promote the technology and possibilities, Volvo will also hold a seminar in Gothenburg when the trucks leave and in Brussels when they arrive there. Besides these two seminars, they will also be present at the Intertraffic Amsterdam exhibition and the European Truck Platooning Conference held there.

Anders Kellström, Project Manager for Volvo’s participation in the EU Truck Platooning Challenge, has released a statement about the advantages of platooning, both for customers and society as a whole. He also asked the transportation industry to push for the harmonization of legislation and the introduction of platooning to Europe.

The future of platooning

Unlike the situation in the United States where Google and the California DMV seem to be working against each other. Platooning seems like it could be legalized inside the European Union fairly soon.

The participation of so many countries in the challenge is a sign that they are interested in the technology. If the challenge goes well and the progress of technology continues at this pace, a commercial release by 2020 seems quite possible.

While self-driving cars are still mostly seen as a science fiction idea, the technology for one person to drive several trucks simultaneously seems close to ready.

I’d like to hear what are your thoughts on the matter so leave me a comment with your opinion below.

Philipp Kandal