It’s Not Tailgating

Minimax PlatoonSemis driving closely together can save fuel. (PIT Group)

It’s called platooning, and it saves fuel

For the first time in Canada the technique and technology of platooning, one truck closely following another one to save fuel, was tested on public roads and logging roads. The demonstrations were carried out this October 29 to November 2 in Quebec.

The goal of platooning studies is to develop the technologies, and to find the sweet spots for following distances and speed, so trucks can come together in tight little convoys to save fuel. And on the minds of some is the dream of running some trucks without drivers. This might one day, for example, become reality in the logging industry, which faces driver shortages.

Truck Platooning
The trucks travelled on public roads for a total around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles)

In this fall’s demonstration, computers linking two tractor-trailers. Provided by Minimax Express Transportation, controlled the distance between them, a minimum of 20 metres (66 feet) and the braking and acceleration. The trucks travelled on public roads at 70 kilometres per hour (44 mph) for a total around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles).

Montreal-based PIT Group, Transport Canada and Alabama-based Auburn University which supplied the platooning technology, ran the demonstration. The work also included a one-day demonstration of the technology with logging trucks on forest resources roads in Quebec.

The concept of following close to save fuel is known to some truckers, who tell stories of tailgating a buddy to wring a few more miles out of the fumes remaining in their tanks so they can make it to a gas station. Racing car drivers refer to this effect of aerodynamics as drafting.

PIT Group tests techniques and technologies that may reduce fuel consumption. It first ran platooning trials at Transport Canada’s test track in Blainville, Quebec in October 2016. The California PATH Program (Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology), expert in driving automation systems, supplied specially outfitted Volvo tractors.

In those closed-circuit trials, three trucks ran from 18 to 43 (60 to 140 feet), apart and at 89 and 105 km/h (55 and 65 mph). Sample fuel savings included 7.4% for the middle truck and between 5% and 7.6% combined fuel savings for the three trucks.

Lab and road tests of platooning have been ongoing in the United States for several years. For example, highway tests in 2017 run by Volvo and FedEx in North Carolina, and along Interstate 80 west of Salt Lake City in 2015, in Peterbilt trucks and with the involvement of Lockheed Martin and Peloton Technology.