Drivers on highways in Europe last week might not have realized that the trucks they saw driving by had no drivers.
The European Truck Platooning Challenge involved a dozen autonomous trucks manufactured by Scania, Volvo and Daimler, travel over 2,000 kilometers and cross four borders.
Scania trucks left from Södertalje, south of Stockholm, driving through Sweden, Denmark and Germany to Maasvlakte II in the Port of Rotterdam, making a stop in Zolder, Belgium and in Zwolle, Netherlands. Volvo trucks left from Gothenburg, driving through the same countries, and stopping in Vilvoorde. And Daimler trucks began in Stuttgart and MAN from Munich (both in Southern Germany). Meanwhile, IVECO will depart from Brussels and DAF from their production location in Westerlo, Belgium.
The trucks were equipped with state-of-the-art driving support systems – one closely following the other. This forms a platoon with the trucks driven by smart technology, and mutually communicating.
They’re connected by wifi and can leave a much smaller gap between vehicles than when humans are at the wheel. Platooning can reduce fuel use by up to 15%, prevent human error from causing accidents, and reduce congestion, according to a study by research firm TNO, as reported by Quartz.
The event, which was set up by the Dutch government, pulled together everyone with a stake in getting self-driving trucks on the road, Quartz reported. That includes transportation officials, truck makers, executives of companies with significant logistics needs (including Unilever and DHL), and academics and researchers.
“We now have huge energy in the network and the idea is that we will go to real-life cases. Companies like Unilever are planning to start these cases in 2017,” says Dirk-Jan de Bruijn, the platooning challenge’s program director.