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Ported consumer tech offers greater fuel efficiency gains for long-haul than any other tech, firm says

C. W. McCall's hit song "Convoy" and the derivative 1978 film inspired fascination with the commonly witnessed formation of trucks.  But aside from the perks of fraternity and breaking from the monotony of the lonely road, are there more quantifiable advantages from a business and scientific perspective that encourage convoys to form?
It turns out there are.
A Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup -- Peloton Trucking -- is treading uncharted waters with its technology to enable a location-aware, connected fleet of trucks.  The first half of the idea is a matchmaking service of sorts to find trucking partners near you to hook up with, while on the road during a long haul.  
The second part of Peloton's offering is a semi-automated driving system, which maintains the "platooned" trucks (trucks in a convoy formation) at an optimum distance -- typically 33 feet.  Consumer vehicles already have this technology in some models, typically referred to as "adaptive cruise control".  The technology governs speed and braking at certain conditions, but requires the driver to handle steering (in all conditions) and take over if more challenging conditions are encountered.

Adaptive Cruise Control

Translating that technology from small passenger vehicles to massive 18-wheeler trucks is a daunting task, but Peloton and its academic partner, Auburn University, think they have a compelling and safe system.
Peloton's initial tests of that system come courtesy of an ongoing series of studies funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and other sources.  Working with suppliers -- including PACCAR Inc. (PCAR) subsidiary Peterbilt, Denso Corp. (TYO:6902), and various others.  The finished system includes:
  • Microcontroller
  • Cellular link to Peloton's networks
  • GPS unit (for geotracking)
  • Wi-Fi link for intervehicle communication
  • Radar to sense the difference between vehicles.  
The collaborators tested the technology on the fleet of privately owned C.R. England, a U.S. trucking firm that bills itself as "nation's largest refrigerated transportation company."

Peloton tech in trucks
C.R. England trucks hook up and "platoon", using wireless technology.

Here's some of the findings of the test, which was performed in the state of Nevada:
  • Why a Convoy?
    • 40% of operating costs of a long haul trucker come from fuel
    • 10% of U.S. oil use and related carbon emissions comes from the long-haul trucking industry
  • Technology
  • Fuel Savings From Convoy Driving
    • 7% average fuel economy improvement at 65mph
      • 10% for the rear truck
      • 4.5% for the lead truck
    • Better savings than any other available fuel economy improvement technology for trucks
    • Potential $6B USD industry wide savings
Peloton plans monetize its system in two ways.  First, it sells the hardware to truckers to connect to Peloton's networks, which set them up with matches.  Second, for every mile the trucks are driving in a matchmaking-generated convoy formation, Peloton and the fleet company divide the savings.
Here's a video of the technology in action:

Clearly, this automated driving technology is just the tip of the iceberg, with fully automated, driverless technologies like Google Inc.'s (GOOG) driverless cars on the horizon.  But if Peloton can pull off its objective -- offering the first commercially available matchmaking and adaptive cruise control system for freight trucks -- it could in the nearer term achieve a significant accomplishment in its own right: transforming the old-fashioned convoy into a safer, more cost-effective high-tech successor.

Sources: Peloton [on YouTube], [White Paper]

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By BRB29 on 6/4/2014 8:19:04 AM , Rating: 3
This could mean more sleepy truck drivers. I think large trucks needs autonomous driving than anything. These trucks are restricted to driving only on certain roads, mostly highways and larger roads. The autonomous driving system would work wonders.

RE: Great!
By PaFromFL on 6/4/2014 9:23:19 AM , Rating: 2
While autonomous driving systems have the potential to save trucking costs while reducing accidents, I doubt any corporation or insurance company would risk selling an autonomous driving system in the lawyer-infested USA. It will take a law to limit liability claims in the event of a problem. Labor unions will probably oppose any system that might eventually replace drivers. Until automated security measures are perfected, armed guards will be needed to protect driverless trucks. It will probably happen about the same time airline pilots and air traffic controllers are downsized.

RE: Great!
By someguy123 on 6/4/2014 10:02:33 PM , Rating: 2
I'd say it would never happen due to piecework pay in the trucking industry rather than accident liability. There are a lot of freight companies that are running tight deadlines and paying truckers by the mile. It's basically an underhanded way of nudging them into going over speed limits, driving on dangerous roads, and working without sleep without technically being liable. Truckers using pep pills is a stereotype for a reason. Without truckers flooring it they probably wouldn't be able to keep up their current delivery quotes. These things going 50mph for 24 hours sounds nice until you get an overnight order where you need to hit 80 for 12.

RE: Great!
By Solandri on 6/4/2014 3:22:03 PM , Rating: 3
I think large trucks needs autonomous driving than anything. These trucks are restricted to driving only on certain roads, mostly highways and larger roads. The autonomous driving system would work wonders.

These already exist. They're called "trains".

As was discussed in the EV road tax comments, funding the Interstate Highway System with fuel taxes effectively subsidized the trucking industry. They cause nearly all of the wear on the highways, but the cars pay a majority of the maintenance and repair costs.

This subsidy for trucking doomed the railroad industry in the U.S. Trucks make sense for short and some medium haul distances. But they consume about 10x more fuel per ton-mile than a train. We should be loading shipping containers onto trains for hauls between cities, with trucks picking up the containers from the railyard and delivering them to locations within the city. This is the product transportation system used throughout most of the rest of the world.

Rather than throwing good money after bad by trying to make trucks more train-like, I'd like to see it spent improving the country's rail system and phasing out the fuel tax "subsidy" for trucks.

RE: Great!
By Reclaimer77 on 6/4/2014 4:56:24 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah let's usher back in the 19'th century and start building railroads everywhere..

RE: Great!
By Spuke on 6/4/2014 9:04:18 PM , Rating: 2
LMAO!!! Dude!

RE: Great!
By Reclaimer77 on 6/5/2014 10:30:09 AM , Rating: 1
lol well come on, I honestly can't believe people are convincing themselves railways are the future.

I'm pretty sure there's a reason for mass trucking. If it wasn't more efficient, more cost effective, and more reliable it wouldn't be used over railroads. That's how capitalism works, it seeks out the best solutions!

RE: Great!
By JAMF on 6/5/2014 11:28:17 AM , Rating: 2
"more cost effective"... well, the point was that when you remove
fuel tax "subsidy"
, then rail will be more cost effective, with trucks covering the last bit.

RE: Great!
By Reclaimer77 on 6/5/2014 12:55:55 PM , Rating: 2
Okay people are seriously throwing the word "subsidy" around for every pet peeve whether it applies or not.

The trucking industry pays enormous sums of money in fuel and other taxes. I don't see how any reasonable person could claim they are being subsidized.

I'm sure someone in the industry could explain quite clearly why it would be absolutely crazy to revert back to a time when we depend on rail for most transportation. And I seriously doubt it's because of this "fuel tax subsidy".

But since I'm not in the industry, I use Google. This guy makes a good point:

"Transportation of perishable foods (meat and produce, etc) is a *huge* part of trucking; a team of 2 drivers can get a load of, say, fresh cherries from California to Massachusetts in just over 48 hours. And during the trip, the drivers have constant control & knowledge of the temperature the cherries are cooled at, can intercept any problems with the refrigeration system long before it becomes a hazard to the load. Think especially of things like fresh's very vital to have 24 hour monitoring of these temperature controlled loads, otherwise it poses a threat to everyone's food supply.

Compare that to rail could take 5 days if not a week to go from LA to Boston, no one has a way to keep 24 hour track of the refrigeration system (if it breaks down, the cherries could heat up & be ruined) and the process of loading & unloading the intermodal containers is quite rough and the whole trip by train is pretty bumpy (most produce is delicate and has to be carried on air-ride trailers). "

RE: Great!
By Reclaimer77 on 6/5/2014 12:57:52 PM , Rating: 2

"Time-sensitive freight also makes up a huge percentage of goods shipped by truck. I've hauled goofy things like plastics, rubber, carbon fiber, foam pillow stuffing, even cardboard in the past....things that *are* often shipped by train when it's cost and time-efficient. However, sometimes the factories needing these cheap, non perishable raw materials....need them YESTERDAY in order to stay in production. Therefore they can't afford to sit around and wait a week for rail shipment. They pay a slightly higher rate and get it shipped by truck in 3-4 days.

Expensive or delicate goods- such as high end electronics, cigarettes, certain types of machinery, are also preferrably shipped by truck for many of the reasons I previously mentioned. Less of a bumpy ride, 24 hour surveillance, personal hands-on transportation....if you've got 2 million dollars worth of cigarettes or MRI equipment going from Virginia to California, you'd rest easier knowing it was on an air-ride truck equipped with satellite tracking systems, knowing you could get in touch with a driver 24 hours a day and ask them, personally "How's things going?" Things like this make up a greater majority of the freight shipped on the highways than you may realize.

Rail transportation definitely has it's place in the grand scheme of logistics & transportation in the US. More and more, companies *are* utilizing it these days for shipment of raw materials, non perishables and bulk goods when it is cost-efficient to do so. Still rail will always have its limitations; there are always certain things that are better served by truck transportation. "

RE: Great!
By jamescox on 6/6/2014 6:42:49 AM , Rating: 2

This sounds to me like an argument for making the rail system better, not using more and more inefficient trucks. A train should be able to go faster than a truck, if we actually put money into building and upgrading tracks.

I know a bit about what goes on in the trucking industry. Long haul driving is a low paying job, and drivers often drive far too long to be driving safely. I used to live along a major interstate, and truck drivers failing asleep at the wheel was not uncommon. I heard of drivers doing 40+ hours at a time; I doubt the government has cracked down on this. A little while before I moved, there was a construction zone with slow traffic, and a trucker fell asleep at the wheel and killed an entire family.

As far as refrigerated trucks are concerned, I also used to know someone who drove these. The refrigeration system was completely independent; it had its own engine and fuel. The driver was strictly hands off. It was the responsibility of those who load the truck to make sure it is set right. Monitoring something doesn't really require a person on sight, they could just as easily have a system to report any issues remotely.

Rail in the US is slow, but there isn't anything preventing us from making it much faster, other than investing in the infrastructure. I would rater get as many trucks off the road as possible. They damage the roads significantly more than light auto traffic, and in the current state of the business, they are a danger to other drivers. This doesn't even get into how much less efficient it is on fuel.

Also, if you have been on the interstates out west, I can't imagine that a train track is bumpier. A train track, by definition has to be a certain level of smoothness. Anyway, there is nothing preventing you from outfitting rail cars with "air ride" suspension or whatever else.

RE: Great!
By jamescox on 6/6/2014 7:34:24 AM , Rating: 2
I'm pretty sure there's a reason for mass trucking. If it wasn't more efficient, more cost effective, and more reliable it wouldn't be used over railroads. That's how capitalism works, it seeks out the best solutions!

That is a big fallacy. Capitalism will tend to get the most profitable solutions, which usually aren't the best solutions, especially for the consumer, workers, and usually the environment. The trucking industry in the US had been running on cheap (subsidized) fuel and paying drivers almost nothing. Fuel isn't that cheap any more, which is why things like this story comes up. It is something the trucking industry can do to stay alive, but the real solution is to use rail, but this would require government intervention to actually bring the rail system back up to where it should be.

We have been ignoring our infrastructure for a long time, and it is seriously decaying. I just watched a show about a bridge collapse that happened a few years ago. It turns out that a large percentage of bridges are in the exact same state, but we are not spending the money to fix them. Private industry does not have a reason to upgrade and fix these things, even when they own it, since fixing just cuts into profits. The natural gas pipeline explosion a few years back in San Bruno, CA comes to mind. The pipe in question was a large natural gas pipeline which was also very old. It killed quite a few people when it blew up. It is probably still cheaper for the company to just pay the damages than to actually go through and replace all of the pipeline which needs replaced.

We have proven many times that we can not have free markets in infrastructure based systems. When I first moved to California, we had rolling blackouts because the legislature had allowed a "free market" in electricity to be set up. What really happened is that the companies selling power in California deliberately shutdown plants using various different excuses to artificially constrain the supply. This drove the price up to ridiculous levels and allowed the power companies to essentially loot the California treasury for billions of dollars.

We really need to upgrade our electrical grid. With modern technology, the suburbs really could power the city during the day. This would make the electrical grid into infrastructure though. It would allow anyone who has extra power (solar, wind hydro, whatever), even in small amount like individual suburban homes, to sell their power over the grid. The power companies have no reason to support upgrading the electrical grid; they would be relegated to maintaining the grid, rather than actually selling the power themselves.

A similar argument could be made for the internet. Many entities want to sell their content over the internet, but we have content producers (like comcast) who also own the infrastructure (the actual cable to your house). They obviously don't want to carry netflix, hulu, youtube, or whatever, they want you to consume only their content. The internet has become infrastructure; it is necessary to actually do business, just like roads. Having content producers also own the connection is problematic. This would be like having some company owning the road to your house and limiting who can use it.

Trains are obviously much more efficient than trucks. In most European countries, almost everything goes by rail. Smaller trucks are used for local delivery. I don't know if so called "long haul" trucking even exist. Their rail systems are just a lot better, because they invested in them. We can't even get a single high-speed passenger train line built between San Francisco and LA. Ridiculous.

RE: Great!
By Mint on 6/4/2014 5:13:12 PM , Rating: 2
Somebody in the other thread pointed out some data that suggested trucks aren't getting as much of a subsidy as I thought.

More importantly, even doubling their fuel tax probably wouldn't tip the scales to railroads by much. That would only change your 10x factor to 11x.

Road convoys are definitely the future, both for trucks and cars.

RE: Great!
By SlyNine on 6/4/2014 9:54:12 PM , Rating: 2
I just wonder what happens when computers are more capable then us over all.

In any case I think this is a long ways away. We might see it at the end of our life times. What we will see is these systems used to assist drivers, not replace them.

RE: Great!
By SlyNine on 6/4/2014 4:50:07 PM , Rating: 2
Someday this may happen. But not for a long time. The automation isn't ready, the infrastructure isn't ready. Besides I see more bad car drivers on a daily basis then I do truck drivers.

These systems perform well when they run in to conditions that have been thought out. But all the variables that exist on the roads today have not been thought out.

All this praise for these automated car systems for what? why all the support? You see some test results from the manufactures of these's systems and you think that's a fair analysis for how they perform? We need third party objective analyses of these systems. That's still a ways away. Do you really believe google takes their cars on roads they didn't case, roads they don't have a pilot driver looking for dangerous conditions? These tests are still very much controlled conditions.

Yeah, it's called...
By Zak on 6/6/2014 1:39:02 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, it's called a railroad and it's an extremely efficient way of transporting goods over large distances.

But if this gets rid of idiot truckers passing at +1mph for 10 minutes on highways then I say go for it. But I'd just rather have all trucks removed from our highways.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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