Today, many people have some degree of unease toward automation—job loss, safety concerns, and terminator-esque scenarios are among the most common concerns. Trucking is no exception to the growth of automation, and a collective fear is rising about the decimation of truck driving careers and autonomous 80,000 pound vehicles on the highways.
But why is it that people believe such science fiction scenarios or dramatic economic repercussions could happen in our current state of automation? Those closest to trucking, the drivers themselves, especially realize how far we have until full autonomy. According to Dave Mercer, a driver for Peloton Technology, “We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can throw a fully automated truck out there on the highway at this point in time and have the public accept it,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to see it. I wouldn’t want to pull up beside a truck myself and see no driver in there.” Because before we can or want to see trucks driving themselves, we have many intermediate steps to take. One important step—which is real and happening now—is truck platooning. Truck platooning is a critical step in building toward higher levels of automation. Here is how Peloton views the development of platooning:
Treat safety as a first principle
One of the benefits of truck platooning is safer driving; safety considerations always have to be at the top of the list. Safety should be seen in all aspects of the truck, including the requirement of top-of-the-line safety equipment, like air disc brakes, adaptive cruise control, and a collision mitigation system.
By requiring an already excellent level of safety equipment, platooning is designed to enhance the safety of driving, not replace existing safety systems.
Put drivers in the driver’s seat for designing the platooning user experience
Be serious about collaborating with the truck drivers who will use platooning technologies, and work closely with professional drivers at each stage of the user experience (UX) design. Deciding to platoon on the road ultimately relies on driver engagement, so they need to feel comfortable and supported by the system, not overrun by another piece of technology.
Implement advanced versions of proven technologies
Utilizing existing and industry-standard technologies promotes acceptance and integration of platooning technologies. That’s why Peloton’s direct vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, which allows two platooning trucks to accelerate and brake together as a single system, is based on the industry-standard dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) protocol.
Focus on specific use cases
Platooning is not appropriate for every scenario, and it is important to realize this and build the system for its ideal use cases. One of the primary use cases for truck platooning is two truck, hub-to-hub routes—from one large distribution center to another. This focus allows fleets and carriers to become familiar with platooning technology in low-risk scenarios, over routes that multiple trucks travel back and forth every day. By reducing the variables around platooning, drivers are more comfortable, and it’s easier to measure the fuel economies that platooning enables.
Work to gain regulatory acceptance of truck platooning
In recent months, there has been a rapid rise in approval for commercial platooning across multiple states. Currently, 17 states have approved the commercial deployment of platooning, including a majority of states along the I-10 corridor and in the Great Lakes region. An additional four states have approved limited commercial deployment— Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida. Acceptance among states, especially those with heavily traveled highways, is critical to increase platooning opportunities and enhance the value of platooning.
Truck platooning is definitely not the fully automated driving of people’s dreams, or nightmares. But it’s a great example of how well-executed steps toward greater autonomy are delivering real benefits, today.