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Improved Platooning Technology Cuts Fuel Use by 20 Percent

Platooning is not new, but exciting improvements in semi-truck technology are poised to make it even better. Peloton Technology recently announced a new team effort that could improve fuel efficiency by 20%. 

The effort is part of the Department of Energy's NEXTCAR Program.  NEXTCAR stands for "NEXT-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Automated On-Road Vehicles." The program provides funding to drive innovative transportation technology. Purdue received $5 million to fund the three-year project. Along with Purdue and Peloton, the project team includes Cummins, Peterbilt Motors Company, ZF TRW, and the University of Arizona.

The team plans to enhance Peloton’s current platooning system by adding Cummins' powertrain solutions and steering controls from ZF TRW to Peterbilt trucks. The overall goal is to reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent in real-world driving conditions. If these fuel savings could be implemented across the US trucking fleet, it would save more than 8 billion gallons of diesel fuel and 80 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

How does platooning work?  Each truck is equipped with a communication system that can connect to the system on other trucks.  Once connected, the system coordinates braking and accelerating, allowing trucks to follow one another very closely but very safely.  By following so closely, the trucks can use improved aerodynamics to save fuel. A National Operations Center (NOC) monitors the trucks involved.  Drivers and transport companies can set up platoons in advance, and the NOC identifies on-the-fly pairings based on speed and destination.

While the savings are significant, the program always focuses on safety first. The NOC only allows platooning in areas with divided highways and low traffic. The NOC also monitors weather, traffic, and surrounding conditions at all times. This means the NOC can alert drivers to adverse conditions ahead and end platoons whenever necessary. 

The team will continue to improve current platooning technology and efficiency through powertrain improvements, steering control enhancements, and improved information sharing.