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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