The Federal Highway Administration conducted a Sept. 14-15 demonstration of a
three-truck platoon operating on Interstate 66 at Centreville, Va., several miles outside the nation's capital, to showcase the results of a four-year research project on the state-of-the-art driving and communications technologies.
In the test under real-world traffic conditions, the driver in the lead truck set the pace, while tracking, communications and driving gear in the two following vehicles allowed their drivers to watch as the automatic platooning took over.
The technology is also designed to let drivers of passenger vehicles move in between the platooning trucks from adjacent lanes, and then have the trucks close in again for optimal operating distance when cars move back out.
The trucking industry sees this technology helping boost efficiency and safety of its freight traffic, and perhaps pave the way for a time when some trucks might operate without drivers. However, the FHWA said its demonstration "involved partially automated trucks – which are not driverless, and used professional drivers. The advanced technology that makes platooning possible is meant to supplement, not replace, the nation's commercial motor vehicle operators."
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said that "the future of innovative new technology to help our drivers navigate the road more safely is so full of promise. It's a future where vehicles increasingly help drivers avoid crashes."
She said that while highway safety is a primary department goal, "the benefits of these driving technologies extend beyond safety, including productivity and efficiency on our roads."
Truck platooning uses vehicle-to-vehicle communications to allow trucks to follow each other more closely – at about one second apart – and travel in a more coordinated fashion than trucks usually manage when operated by drivers.
While various aspects of truck platooning have been studied for years, the FHWA said its Exploratory Advance Research program "has taken testing to new levels with the addition of Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control (CACC) technology. CACC adds vehicle-to-vehicle communications to the adaptive cruise control capability now available in new vehicles. This connectivity allows trucks to operate more smoothly as a unit, reducing and controlling the gaps between vehicles."
Testing in Virginia took advantage of a
state "automated corridors" initiative that offers developers of such technologies the opportunity to operate them on certain highway corridors.
Virginia is also one of a
growing number of states that have passed laws allowing various levels of automated vehicle testing or operation.
The test location is also near the U.S. Department of Transportation's
Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, Va., where the truck platoon assembled before moving to the highway.
The demonstrations came just days after Chao and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced new guidelines for automated driving systems.
"These new technologies have the ability to increase capacity on our highways and make freight transportation more efficient," said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Brandye Hendrickson. "With innovations like these, we can get more out of the highway system we already have, relieve traffic congestion and reduce costs to the freight industry."
Considering the volume of freight moved annually by trucks on America's roads is expected to more than double over the next 25 years, the FHWA said federal officials "expect truck platooning to dramatically enhance highway mobility." It noted that trucks moved 63 percent of total freight tonnage carried in the nation.
Above: Three FHWA tractor-trailer rigs with blue tractors operate as a synchronized platoon along a busy stretch of I-66 in northern Virginia. Image / FHWA test video.
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