How talkative trucks could drive down emissions

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, August 22, 2016

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Big trucks could soon be talking to each other and partially driving themselves on American roads, saving fuel and carbon emissions.

The spread of autonomous technology in the automobile industry may hold climate benefits despite concerns about road use, safety and employment, according to researchers (ClimateWire, Jan. 19). And the technology, which ranges from fully self-driving to advanced driver assist, is not limited to passenger cars developed by Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Tesla Motors Inc.

One startup in this Silicon Valley town, Peloton Technology, is hoping to cut truck emissions by more than 7 percent with a strategy called platooning that uses vehicle-to-vehicle communication and partial automation.

“We’re using vehicle automation to improve vehicle safety, and those opportunities unlock fuel savings,” said Steve Boyd, vice president of external affairs. “We’re excited about the combination of benefits.”

Peloton’s technology electronically connects pairs of truck drivers and helps them follow each other at closer distances — around 50 to 100 feet instead of several hundred. Sensors guide the second truck in the pair, helping it brake and accelerate automatically. The improved air flow, similar to the phenomenon when bicyclists closely follow each other in a race, helps cut fuel use. The front truck could get up to 10 percent in fuel savings, and the second up to 7 percent, according to an American Transportation Research Institute study based on a Peloton demonstration.

One of the main advantages of the retrofit is increased safety, Boyd said. Sensors and data analytics shared through the cloud can provide truck drivers a look of what’s ahead, from weather to traffic.

But fuel economy is often at the top of the priority list for fleet managers who spend about one-third of their budget on fuel costs.

Platooning credits?

The carbon pollution from big trucks, rising eight times faster than those from passenger cars and trucks since 1990, has raised concerns about meeting carbon-cutting goals set by the Obama administration.

Medium- and heavy-duty trucks are responsible for 23 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, but they make up 5 percent of the vehicles on the roads. U.S. EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards requiring fuel efficiency improvements in big trucks released Tuesday aim to cut carbon emissions 25 percent from the sector by 2025 (ClimateWire, Aug. 17).

Platooning could be one of several strategies to help reach those targets, Boyd said. Peloton is exploring whether the technology could earn truck manufacturers credit under the standards. The application process could take several years. Regulators have refused to count automated safety features in passenger cars toward compliance with fuel efficiency standards in the past, but have said they would consider new technology.

Other companies are also developing autonomous driving technology for heavy-duty vehicles. About a dozen trucks from major manufacturers like Volvo Group and Daimler AG semi-autonomously drove across Europe this spring as part of the European Truck Platooning Challenge. Ottomotto LLC, a startup, aims to retrofit 18-wheelers with technology that lets them fully drive themselves without a driver, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In the light-duty vehicle world, Ford Motor Co. is the latest to join the game, announcing this week it would build a fully autonomous vehicle for ride sharing by 2021.

Automakers are now in a race to get their technology on the roads.

Peloton could be among the first to deploy vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology, which sends signals using the 5.9-gigahertz spectrum band reserved for cars. Cadillac’s 2017 CTS midsize sedan is also expected to use vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

Peloton technology is scheduled to be rolled out in fleet trials on the roads in Texas next year, Boyd said. Demonstrations have already taken place in Michigan, Nevada and elsewhere. Major backers include Volvo Trucks and Lockheed Martin Corp.