Barcelona, European capital of truck platooning
Truck platooning is a concept that has been in development for several years and consists of a group of trucks driving in a "connected" convoy. A recent development indicates that it is now less than a few years away from implementation: Barcelona was the scene of the first test carried on in a real environment, outside closed circuits, where each truck in this convoy belonged to a different manufacturer. A true demonstration that the common communication protocol, after some fine-tuning, is almost ready to be implemented
What is ENSEMBLE?
The ENSEMBLE project started in 2018 with the aim of paving the way for the adoption of multi-brand truck platooning. This is when two or more trucks from different manufacturers connect on the road and coordinate movements and responses to the environment they are driving in. This cooperative driving is seen as a solution to reduce emissions and road congestion and increase road safety.
The project, budgeted at 26 million Euros, will run for 42 months. Marika Hoedemaeker, its coordinator, explains to PierNext that they hope to make progress on different fronts, especially in the development of an open communication protocol so that the different brands can incorporate it into their future connected trucks.
"We are preparing documentation on aspects such as fuel consumption or traffic flow and the benefits platooning generates for brands and road operators. We obtain this data from simulations and driving in real-life environments to study the impacts of platooning compared to the data produced by trucks driven individually," she shares.
From Barcelona to Sitges, the first ever demonstration in a real environment
On 23 September, the first and, so far, only demonstration of multi-brand truck platooning took place in a real environment, as previously all the tests had been carried out on closed circuits. Seven trucks (from manufacturers DAF, Daimler Trucks, IVECO, MAN Trucks & Bus, Renault Trucks, Scania and Volvo Trucks) gathered at the Hotel Fira Congress in L'Hospitalet del Llobregat and set off in a platoon to Sitges.
The main objective of the test was to check the functioning of the common communication protocol in all trucks and its influence on group driving. "Each brand has its own algorithms, but at a higher level there is a common protocol that must be aligned so that certain manoeuvres, such as deceleration, guide the behaviour of the entire convoy," Hoedemaeker explains .
The project started with the goal of each truck driving fairly close to each other, at a distance of between 0.8 and 0.6 seconds. "However, we realised that this is not feasible at the moment. The main reason is that these times leave very little room for manoeuvre if the driver has to intervene. This does not mean that we will not be able to close this gap in the future, but to do so, more work on the redundancy of the system is required," she justifies.
Hoedemaeker describes the demonstration as successful and points out that only two weeks earlier trucks were performing on closed circuits. She stresses that this is the first time that multi-brand platooning had been tested, a factor that Javier Garrido, researcher at the Centre for Innovation and Transport (CENIT) and doctoral student at the Port of Barcelona, also considers essential for its future implementation.
"The road transport sector is very fragmented. So the search for solutions that are compatible with different trucks, or even logistics companies, brings added value and is an interesting starting point," says Garrido.
The value of projects such as ENSEMBLE and multi-brand platooning is that they push towards a legislative framework for autonomous driving
Possible use cases of truck platooning
For Garrido, the main virtue of platooning is its efficiency, therefore, he sees this solution as an interesting and feasible competition to the railway. "This means of transport has a rigid structure, limited by its 750-metre length, and a capacity that must be shared with passenger trains. The road network, on the other hand, is more permeable and platooning is more flexible, as it allows for long chains or several shorter ones," he justifies.
The Platooning Autonomous Function will probably start to be implemented in closed areas. But the Platooning Support Function, as demonstrated in Barcelona, is meant to be deployed soon on the real roads mixing into real traffic. Garrido adds that ports can be an excellent scenario to develop pilots and test the system to see how it reacts in different scenarios, rather than to move containers within the facilities given the large size of the trucks.
The challenges of autonomous driving
For Garrido, the value of projects such as ENSEMBLE is that they manage to make progress on this issue. Although the project ends in March 2022, its coordinator says that they are preparing another proposal for the European Commission on cooperative vehicles in the transport of heavy goods.
The expert points out that one of the issues that also needs to be improved is the cybersecurity of the system, since when the software takes control of the vehicle it can be exposed to hackers and seriously jeopardise road safety. There are still aspects to be polished, but the aim is that when manufacturers renew their fleets in the near future they will be able to incorporate trucks capable of cooperative driving.
Want to know more?
- What are the benefits of platooning?
- Does Truck Platooning Work in the Real World?
- Effect of Platooning on Fuel Consumption
- Placing drivers at the heart of innovation