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Scania aims to make platooning a reality

The concept of platooning sounds very much in the realms of science fiction to us here in Australia

By Matt Wood | April 16, 2012

The concept of platooning sounds very much in the realms of science fiction to us here in Australia.

Platooning is when a string of vehicles is travelling in convoy with each vehicle taking advantage of the slipstream of the vehicle in front.

The idea is that each vehicle is communicating with the other electronically enabling them to travel at distances as close as 10 metres on motorways. Research so far suggests that fuel savings in the vicinity of 10 percent are possible.

A European Commission funded research group, Safe Road Trains for the Environment, has been actively studying various different models of platooning, including mixing light vehicles and cars with trucks.

Given that most heavy vehicles are limited to the same speed, the advantages of platooning for trucks are obvious given the large slipstream made by a truck and trailer. But there are also advantages touted for the drivers in the platoon.

It’s envisaged that drivers in the platoon, except of course the lead driver, will be able to relax, have something to eat, check emails and chat on the phone until it’s their turn to leave the platoon and turn off the motorway.

While this might seem like a good idea, it is all a little bit far-fetched right? Well, truck maker Scania is taking steps to turn this embryonic idea into reality.

In collaboration with the Swedish National Road and Transport Institute, Scania is planning to trial platooning on the 520km route between the Swedish cities of Södertälje and Helsingborg.

“Reducing aerodynamic drag by drafting comes naturally to fish, birds, cross-country skiers and cyclists,” Scania pre-development researcher Tony Sandberg says.

The trial will be conducted using Scania’s adaptive cruise control where the speed of the following vehicle is governed by the lead vehicle and will be keeping a gap of 40 to 60 metres between trucks.

In the second phase, the gap is expected to be reduced to 20 to 25 metres. The trial will take place using Scania’s own in-house transport arm, the Scania Transport Laboratory.

The laboratory uses its own fleet for research as well as transporting components between factories.

For example, five trucks depart Södertälje daily heading to the Scania plant in the Dutch city of Zwolle, loaded with engines, gearboxes and axles. It is predicted that drag on the second vehicle will be reduced by 30 percent at a distance of 25 metres and by as much as 40 percent for the third vehicle in line.

Another bonus is that the following vehicles tend to push as well as pull each other along.

“We’re now interested in ascertaining whether these substantial savings can actually be achieved in a real traffic environment,” Project Manager Anders Johansson says. How is surrounding traffic affected? How do drivers feel about platooning?”

For Scania, the ultimate goal is to reduce the gap between vehicles to 10 metres, but the technology and systems for a 0.5 second gap aren’t available yet. We’ll be watching with interest.

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