MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (Dec. 20, 2016) — Vehicles linked electronically and moving in platoons is one of the more advanced objectives of autonomous driving. Vehicle-to-vehicle communications, which make platoons possible, received a big boost last week when the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a rule to mandate the technology in cars. But it is already about to move forward in commercial trucks.
Next year, Peloton Technology will begin supplying packages of transponders and software to enable commercial shippers to form truck platoons.
Peloton, a Silicon Valley startup, contends that platoon driving can significantly reduce fuel consumption — a critical consideration for commercial fleets.
CEO Joshua Switkes told Automotive News that Peloton will deliver the first packages to customers late next year. "We will purposely slow down our initial rollout to make sure it's going well," Switkes said. "But in 2018, we want to deliver as many systems as truck fleets will buy."
Peloton's platoon customers will be limited to two vehicles and operate on rural highways in states that allow properly equipped trucks to tailgate each other.
In theory, V2V transponders can help vehicles avoid collisions by signaling their locations to one another. The newly proposed DOT rule would require 100 percent of cars to have V2V technology in about five years.
Cadillac has announced plans to equip its vehicles with transponders, but other automakers have adopted a wait-and-see approach. Uncertain now is how the proposed mandate will fare under the incoming Trump administration.
In 2013, pairs of Peloton-equipped Peterbilt rigs traveled up and down Interstate 80 in Utah to gauge their fuel savings. The lead trucks cut fuel consumption by 4.5 percent, while the trailing rigs saved 10 percent.
Improved fuel economy will be a major lure for truckers, and it has helped Peloton attract some big-name financial backers.
Denso Corp., which has developed its own V2V data links, has taken a financial stake in Peloton. Other investors include Magna International Inc., Volvo Group, UPS Inc. and Intel Corp.
"We are working on some vehicle-to-vehicle technologies, so the opportunity to deploy it was the initial interest for us," said Tony Cannestra, Denso's director of corporate ventures. "Peloton seemed like a logical first place."
On a basic level, Peloton's technology is similar to adaptive cruise control. Each truck in a platoon is equipped with a transponder that uses dedicated short-range communications radio signals to transmit its location to the other vehicle.
When the system is activated, the rear truck automatically pulls closer to the lead vehicle, then maintains a gap of 35 to 50 feet. Both drivers continue to steer their vehicles, while their cruise control systems adjust the speed.
But Peloton faces some barriers. The chief problem is the patchwork of state trucking regulations that govern the distance that must be maintained between trucks. Some states require gaps of 300 feet or so, while others merely require truckers to follow other rigs at a "prudent distance."
According to Switkes, 11 states have approved trial demonstrations of truck platoons, while another 25 states are are considering it. One state, Michigan, has approved truck platoons for commercial use.
David Sedgwick is a reporter with Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.