First there were the Supertrucks. Now the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is boosting two-truck platoons.
Last summer an outfit called the North American Council on Freight Efficiency (NACFE) issued a report saying platooning is not that far off, and it will definitely begin with two-truck platoons. They say two-truck platoons could yield fuel savings of 4.5 percent for the lead truck and 10 percent for the one following for an overall savings of 7 percent. According to NACFE, almost every technology needed for two-truck platooning already exists commercially. We're only missing one thing: truck-to-truck communications.
Now DOE is encouraging just that with a $5 million grant to Purdue University. For the next three years the school will be working with Cummins, Peterbilt, ZF TRW, and Peloton (the Silicon Valley company that demonstrated platooning in Utah back in 2013). The DOE wants to raise the average savings of two-truck platoons from 7 percent to 20 percent. That financial incentive would be enough to get a whole lot of carriers interested in platooning.
DOE Supertruck grants beginning in 2009 fostered a number of fuel saving innovations that are now in commercial use, including predictive shifting, hybrid-electric powertrains, and waste heat recovery, says the DOE. The Volvo and Freightliner Supertrucks reached more than 12 mpg.
The latest DOE project is called – get ready for this – the Next-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Autonomous On-Road Vehicles (NEXTCAR). NEXTCAR takes their fuel-saving efforts from single trucks to two-truck platoons.
Peloton says the project will involve advanced powertrain solutions from Cummins, and state-of-the-art trucks from Peterbilt. NEXTCAR will include electronic communications between the trucks with the internet. Truck-to-truck communications will allow precise coordination of both trucks' drive trains. Cloud connectivity provides information about the road ahead to maintain smooth, efficient platooning through grades and rolling hills, according to Peloton.
Oh yes, I almost forgot the ZF TRW contribution to the project: automated steering control.
Since following distance is maintained by the adaptive cruise control, and braking is automatic, does automated steering mean the driver of the following truck can relax and play Minecraft on his phone?
“Although the ZF TRW steering system to be used in the project is capable of automated controls, in this project the automated steering functionality will probably not be applied,” said Peloton’s Mike Palmer in an email.
So what’s the reason for the steering system? The answer to that question demonstrates the lengths NEXTCAR will go to for the tiniest bit of fuel savings.
According to Palmer, the automated steering control can go “into low-energy mode characterized by reduced hydraulic flow on high-speed straight-aways where only ‘light’ steering would be required.”
In other words, your power steering won’t be so powerful when you don’t actually need it. The estimated fuel savings: 0.25 percent.