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Tech startup seeks to lower fuel costs

If the platooning system is accepted, trucks will travel closer together to save on fuel.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

A startup company, Peloton Technology, based in Silicon Valley has received a large investment from Lockheed Martin. The startup is developing new methods that will allow trucks to wirelessly communicate as part of a vehicle automation platform, according to Fortune magazine. This technology doesn't seek to replace drivers. Instead, Peloton Technology is seeking to help truck companies save on fuel costs by borrowing ideas bicyclists utilize during road races.

Truck platooning
Peloton Technology is aiming to bring concept of platooning to the trucking industry. During bicycle road races, riders often ride close to each other and save energy by drafting off one another. This concept is ideal for truck companies looking to save on fuel costs. Essentially, semi-trailers will travel in a line on the interstate, otherwise known as platooning. They're close together, approximately 40 or 50 feet apart, according to Fleet Owner.

"Peloton Technology is seeking to help truck companies save on fuel costs."

The goal of platooning is to create just enough space between the trucks to allow air to push forward by minimizing air resistance. This air flow should theoretically help cut down fuel costs for trucks. Fortune said tests have reduced fuel consumption by roughly 10 percent. Drivers are currently still able to closely follow in a line, but they have to be extra cautious because if they aren't paying attention when the front truck stops, an accident may occur.

How technology factors in
The system developed by Peloton Technology utilizes wireless communications, proprietary control algorithms and radar-based active braking systems. It's designed to ensure trucks properly react to the vehicle ahead. For example, the rear truck will react almost instantly if the leading semi-trailer brakes or accelerates. Likewise, the rear driver's view is impaired. However, Peloton Technology hopes to install a video camera and monitor in vehicles. The feed from the front truck will be transmitted to the rear driver, therefore allowing the driver to see the road ahead without technically seeing it.

Cloud computing is also utilized to help drivers platoon. The system takes into account the weather and other factors, such as road conditions. For instance, platooning isn't ideal under inclement weather conditions. Any factor deemed unsuitable will not lead to platooning. This system is not only helping companies save on costs and increase efficiency, but it is also further increasing safety.

Logistics management companies can also utilize platooning as soon as drivers leave distribution centers, according to Fleet Owner. For example, drivers can platoon for a portion of their journey and then split off and take separate routes when need be. All shipments are not going to the same destination, after all.

"The rear truck will react almost instantly if the leading semi-trailer brakes or accelerates."

Potential issues and concerns
With a new piece of technology on the horizon, some concerns will be raised. Some of the biggest concerns will likely center around the reliability of the technology and how well the braking systems will react. Peloton Technology has also not publicly stated the cost to outfit a tractor with this system, but in an interview with Fleet Owner, CEO Josh Switkes said fleets have told him they expect to recoup financial costs seven months after adoption.

Other concerns center around policies and other interstate drivers. For example, passenger vehicles moving in between platooning trucks may pose a risk and deterring cars from doing so remains a challenge. Likewise, drivers will have to accept and learn a new system. With prime shipping season approaching, companies may not have the luxury to test out a new system. In some regards, acceptance may pose the biggest hurdle if this system reaches a piloting phase. Automated platooning is still years away, but the concept is an intriguing idea to help lower fuel costs.

ZDNet reported a $17 million dollar investment from Lockheed Martin and millions more from other companies in Peloton. It seems automated platooning is inching closer to reality. Currently, a platooning system is in trial phase to help trucks cut down on fuel costs and has over accumulated over 15,00 miles, including numerous tests and demonstrations in Texas. While potential technological and policy obstacles exist, platooning does displace drivers, particularly at a time when they're needed more than ever.