Platooning, when vehicles group together in a column, is not a new concept, after all, trains have been doing it for hundreds of years!
However, it’s a relatively new idea for trucks beyond the loose convoy approach, where vehicles just share a road and a destination, keeping each other company on the way. Now truck platooning is being taken to the next level with multiple vehicles, snaking as one through the traffic, close together, reaching destinations faster and more efficiently.
Platooning’s proof of concept was demonstrated in 2016, with six truck manufacturers each entering their own-brand platoon into the European Truck Platooning Challenge (ETPC). The successful challenge laid the groundwork for something even more impressive: ENSEMBLE, set to hit the roads in September 2021. For the first time, seven different truck brands will form a single platoon, after finding each other and joining together mid-journey, in real time with live traffic.
Platooning works because trucks follow each other closely, at a constant speed, boosting traffic flow and reducing tailbacks, using less fuel and producing less CO2. For this to be possible, they need to communicate constantly, accurately and securely with each other directly. A system called dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) enables direct truck-to-truck communication and plays a major role in the ENSEMBLE secure protocol.
On 23 September this year, a platoon will form between Rotterdam harbour and Antwerp’s Port House, taking a portion of the 60-mile (100 km) journey as one unit. The ENSEMBLE Platooning Support function will be performed, which will test for safety, driver assistance and traffic efficiency. The second level, ENSEMBLE Autonomous function, still in specification phase, will eventually test the platoon where only the lead truck needs a driver, with follower platoon trucks driving autonomously.
Once the proven technology is adopted, there will still be regulation hurdles to overcome. Safe distancing in a platoon is, by definition, a lot shorter when technology is handling the gaps. So, we may see trucks drive like trains in scheduled platoons running regular routes, or efficiency-seeking trucks joining up on the fly to drive major roads with cruise control. In either case, the technology at least is on track for success. So, watch the roads in September and check out the Hamburg ITS World Congress in October where the audience will experience ENSEMBLE for themselves.