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Smart lorry convoys save fuel

Large numbers of lorries drive in close convoy, autonomously communicating with one another to maintain optimal distance and fuel efficiency. In the future, this may be a common site. RISE is currently participating in the first project to see vehicles from different manufacturers working together.

The major HGV manufacturers have all come a long way in developing their own solutions for platooning vehicles in convoys. However, in order for the concept to function on a broad front on public roads, vehicles will need to communicate with each other irrespective of their manufacturer. This is where RISE comes in.

“Volvo and Scania each have their own prototypes. It is then a matter of breaking these down to their component parts; which do we want to standardize and which can be implemented individually,” says Jakob Axelsson of RISE.

The Sweden4Platooning project has two main objectives

  • To test conveys on public roads, with an active driver in the lead vehicle and drivers steering the following vehicles – but with a platooning system to maintain distances.
  • To test vehicles in convey on test tracks, with an active driver in the lead vehicle and the following vehicles driving autonomously.

Project team with wide expertise

Transport and logistics company DB Schenker runs both Volvo and Scania lorries in its fleet. Together with RISE, the Swedish Transport Administration and KTH Royal Institute of Technology, they have formed a project team with all of the necessary expertise to succeed. 

It is calculated that platooning vehicles on public roads will lead to fuel savings of between 5-10%.

“This may seem like a small saving but it is hard to think of another current solution that promises to reduce emissions so drastically. This saving will also be achieved in addition to other solutions such as more efficient engines and the like,” says Jakob Axelsson.

Studying distances between vehicles

This project is working towards distances of a few seconds between vehicles. This equates to approximately 20 metres when travelling at 50 miles per hour. From a purely technical viewpoint, considerably tighter convoys are possible; however, this distance is of interest in studying the interaction between vehicles.

“There are a great many safety aspects that require study. What happens if a passenger car breaks into the convoy? Should the convey cease or can it be assumed that the vehicle intends to take the next exit? If one of the vehicles in the convoy experiences technical problems, how should the other vehicles react?

In this context, collaboration between manufacturers is even more important. On such occasions it is essential that vehicles react in a predictable manner – so that a situation does not arise where one vehicle decides to accelerate while another brakes.”

In addition to the technical aspects and vehicle tests, the project is also studying how a platooning service might be designed to make it attractive to hauliers. For example, should it be possible to identify, match with and join conveys while on the road? How long should conveys be?

“If nothing else, one thing is fairly certain. Passenger cars will not be included in conveys in the foreseeable future. Trials have been carried out in the past but, firstly, fuel savings are not very great and, secondly, as a car driver, it is not particularly appealing to sit hemmed in between lorries given the view and exhaust fumes,” explains Jakob Axelsson.