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A fleet of self-driving trucks rumbles across Europe

Lucas Mearian | April 8, 2016
Platooning in the U.S. still four to five years out.

A caravan of about a dozen self-driving, semi-trailer trucks for the first time finished a trip across parts of Europe this week.

The autonomous truck challenge was organized by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and included rigs from six manufacturers, including Volvo, Daimler and Volkswagen subsidiary Scania. The convoy journeyed from manufacturing facilities in Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Sweden to the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

A Scania semi-trailer traveled the longest distance -- more than 2,000 miles and across four national borders. The network of authorities involved in the pilot project included federal governments, roadway authorities and consumer groups from six nations.

Autonomous trucking platooning
Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment A view from a helicopter of the semi-trailer platoon driving across Europe this past week.

"Over the past six months, there has been intensive and multidisciplinary cooperation/teamwork to realize this new form of mobility," the EU Truck Platooning Challenge said in a statement.

"Truck platooning is a form of innovative mobility with a wide range of benefits in the areas of safety, traffic flows and efficiency. Truck platooning also reduces fuel consumption and CO2 emissions," the challenge organizers said.

Platooning is a method of lining up trucks in columns where they follow each other at close distances (about 30 feet) as they drive at a constant speed.

The trucks are linked via Wi-Fi, which allows them to brake faster than a human driver could. The responsiveness of each truck within the platoon is estimated at 25 times faster than the average human reaction time of one second - saving critical time in case of emergency braking.

Platooning also saves gas by keeping each truck in the wind stream of the one ahead of it.

Autonomous semi-trailers would also likely reduce shipping expenses by cutting labor costs since platooning trucks could drive nonstop to their destinations while human drivers would need to to stop and sleep.

Autonomous trucking self-driving trucks
Platooning Challenge The semi-trailers left from various locations around Europe, ending their journey in the Netherlands.

"There are tens of thousands of people being killed on European roads each year," said Melanie Schultz van Haegen, Dutch minister of Infrastructure and the Environment. "At present, 90% of all accidents are caused by human failure. New technologies can help mitigate the results of our shortcomings. What's more, a self-driving car will drive more economically, saving fuel, which is good for the environment and consumers. This is especially interesting for freight transportation. Tests show that trucks that drive very close to each other save between 5% and 15% on fuel."

 

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