European Truck Platooning Challenge trucks complete journey across Europe

On April 6, trucks from Daimler and Volvo completed their autonomous drive across Europe. They were part of the European Truck Platooning Contest, which aims to improve the way large cargo trucks use the roads through, you guessed it, “platooning.”

By platooning, trucks behave a lot more like trains, with each individual unit connected wirelessly to the rest. They follow each other closely, and match their speed and acceleration. From the official website:

With the following trucks braking immediately, with zero reaction time, platooning can improve traffic safety. Platooning is also a cost-saver as the trucks drive close together at a constant speed. This means lower fuel consumption and less CO2 emissions. And, lastly, platooning efficiently boosts traffic flows thereby reducing tail-backs. Meanwhile the short distance between vehicles means less space taken up on the road.

Since fuel is saved by driving closely together at a constant speed, and not by improving drivetrain or aerodynamic designs of the trucks, platooning is a technique that will have a lasting impact, even when trucks eventually replace their gas engines to go electric (years down the road).

It’s also very interesting that some companies, like Daimler, are pitching their self-driving technology as enhancements to make drivers’ lives safer and easier. Though once these things get good enough, there’s of course no need for a driver to be in the truck at all. It feels a lot like an “everyone in the room is thinking it, but no one is saying it” situation in these promo videos.

Others companies, like Uber, are upfront about the fact that they want to just replace all drivers in their transportation services. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick:

“When there is no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere is cheaper. Even on a road trip.”

With Google’s large public investment in self-driving cars, and more and more companies showing off their ambitions in the space, it’s going to be an interesting ride the next couple of years.

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