Japan to Start Truck Platooning Tests on Public Roads by 2018
【Summary】From a long-term perspective, the country is fully committed to curtailing its aging roster of truck drivers by introducing autonomous capabilities to fleets of local trucks.
With the possibility of reducing fuel consumption by up to 20 percent (according to a report released by MIT), truck platooning technology could drastically improve traditional supply chains, distribution centers and late-stage logistical processes.
"The aerodynamic drag reductions were reported in the 40 percent range for the following vehicles and in the 8–9 percent range for the leading vehicle at a 10-m (33-ft) gap. Even at a 20-m (66-ft) gap they were still reporting 25 percent drag reductions for the following vehicles," said Brian Wang from Next Big Future.
The leaders of this sector are not popular auto brands that are fixated on bringing self-driving vehicles to mainstream markets, like Ford and Nissan. Instead, truck platooning platforms are being developed at a rapid pace by the heavy-hitters of the commercial trucking industry: Daimler, Scania, Peloton Technology and Hino.
Japan's Testing Strategy
In Japan, Hino (the third largest truck manufacturer in the world) is the company spearheading truck platooning programs, which included the Japan Energy ITS automated truck platoon project. From a long-term perspective, the country is fully committed to curtailing its aging roster of truck drivers by introducing autonomous capabilities to fleets of local trucks. If all goes according to plan, government-backed road tests could start as early as 2018. This pilot program fits into Daimler's timeline for market proliferation, which is set for 2025.
At the moment, the Japanese transport and industry ministry, as well as the government's IT strategy office are collaborating to create pre-determined paths on public roads for developers to test the technology. The proposed roadway includes the Shin-Tomei Expressway – a busy route that runs between Tokyo and Nagoya. Furthermore, the group intends to implement a dedicated lane for the fleets, starting from interchange stations or rest areas. By minimizing interruption from private vehicles, trucks that are autonomously platooning will experience an increase in efficiency while reducing safety issues (for example, cars swerving between string formations).
Technological Hurdles and Challenges
As mentioned earlier, trucking platooning commands very different vehicular components, compared to self-driving platforms for private cars. This can be seen in a proposed passive safety device in the form of a giant, T-style shock absorber that is attached to the back of platooning trucks and the front of non-leading trucks. The shock absorber, which first surfaced in a 2013 report during the International Task Force on Vehicle Highway Automation 17th Annual Meeting, allows trucks to platoon as close as four meters.
This rugged safety component is effective, but damaging to trucks when used persistently, due to its forceful applications. But as platooning sensors become more reliable, the shock absorber may eventually be phased out.
Lastly, Japanese developers have not released plans to address scheduling groups of trucks. This was viewed as one of the most daunting hurdles to overcome by MIT scientists. Jennifer Chu, a researcher from MIT, recommends using a time-table policy that deploys platoons at regular intervals, as opposed to staggered deployment.
"The emerging market for platooning is promising; in no small part due to its relevance across a considerable spectrum of vehicle automation," said James Hodgson, Research Analyst, ABI Research.
Michael Cheng is a legal editor and technical writer with publications for Blackberry ISHN Magazine Houzz and Payment Week. He specializes in technology business and digesting hard data. Outside of work Michael likes to train for marathons spend time with his daughter and explore new places.
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