Platooning – a use of connected and self-driving technology that allows vehicles to travel closely in convoy, communicating with one another about their relative position – is the future of road transport, but is it a future we want?
There are a number of expected advantages to platooning, as well as potential drawbacks.
On the plus side
- Platooning vehicles use connected vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology to communicate with one another, so any movements are copied by the other vehicles instantaneously. This means that vehicles can react quicker than human drivers to changes in road conditions and are therefore safer.
- As platooning vehicles take advantage of the aerodynamic benefits of running in line, close together at a constant speed on the road, vehicles can save on fuel and reduce their CO2 emissions by as much as 20%, according to the EU’s SARTRE project, run between 2009 and 2012.
- Vehicles travel close together – anything from 5m or 6m to 15m apart – so they take up a lot less space on the road. If you compare that to the 53m that the Highway Code recommends vehicles keep apart as a safe stopping distance, it’s possible to see how many more vehicles can fit on the road at any one time.
- Vehicles running close together, at a constant speed, also means that traffic flows more efficiently, which has the effect of reducing the potential for tail-backs.
On the minus side
- To enable platooning vehicles on public roads, a great number of legislative changes will be required, in order for them to operate without the input of a driver. That process has started, but it will still take some time for the EU and individual member states to change laws that will mean that platooning vehicles can share the roads with other traffic.
- With platooning vehicles relying on connectivity technology, there are concerns over the safety of data and the danger of hacking. Cybersecurity will therefore have to be tight: lines of trucks being controlled by an outside agency could have major safety ramifications.
- Platooning trucks will also require autonomous driving functions and vehicle-to-infrastructure to be ready for on-road use. Vehicle manufacturers are currently working on the development of these technologies, but they’re still a few years – and many millions of pounds of Research and Development funding – from fruition.
- Surveys suggest that public acceptance of platooning is also some way off. As drivers will need to feel comfortable with lines of vehicles operating with a degree of autonomy, there’s a job to be done to win hearts and minds over to a belief that platooning is safe.