Leading the way: the future of truck platooning
Kivanc Arman, Vice President of Automotive Aftermarket, Robert Bosch Turkey, Iran and Middle East, introspects on platooning and its role in the future of freight forwarding.
Over a million trucks are currently in operation across the region, with virtually all land cargo within the region being transported by road. The staggering number of trucks on the GCC’s roads increases by 5–9% every year. While this is a good indicator of growing inter-GCC trade, an increase in truck traffic invariably raises the likelihood of roadside errors, driver fatigue, strain on vehicles, and ultimately, carbon footprint.
An example of transformative innovations expected to change the face of the logistics sector is one that will contribute greatly towards alleviating the aforementioned issues: platooning.
Platooning enables multiple trucks to connect electronically along a virtual longitudinal axis, where the lead vehicle is ‘in charge’, with all the following trucks synchronising their movements, such as accelerating, braking, and turning, in tandem with it. Truck platooning is complex and requires advanced and reliable inter-vehicle connectivity to ensure that acceleration, braking, and steering for each vehicle in the fleet follows that of the first truck in the convoy. In order for this to work, we first have to ensure that each individual truck is automated, and the powertrain, assistance, and steering systems are all connected.
Platooning will play an important part in the future of overland transport, as the logistics industry continues to leverage technology to improve efficiency and cut costs. Connectivity is the keyword for the future of the trucking industry, and the logistics sector in the region stands to benefit greatly from this next leap forward in autonomous transportation. According to a study by Frost & Sullivan, autonomous transportation is set to be a key driver of growth in the UAE’s logistics sector.
Even though platooning is still in its early stages, we anticipate that it will reach maturity in the next five to 10 years. Though our Bosch VisionX truck study – which demonstrated what commercial vehicles will be capable of in just a few years – is still in its conceptual phase, parts of the study are already being trialled, with the testing of driverless cars on freeways in the U.S., Germany, and Japan for the last few years through our highway pilot test-driving program. Although commercial vehicles are larger in size, and truck platooning would still see a driver in each cabin at this stage, many of the technology components that are required are similar.
“Platooning will play an important part in the future of overland transport, as the logistics industry continues to leverage technology to improve efficiency and cut costs.”
This will have several positive implications for freight forwarding companies where every cent counts in the supply chain. These companies often operate huge fleets that traverse thousands of kilometers – which drives the need to cushion their bottom line by finding ways to streamline efficiencies and reduce costs. The longevity of a vehicle, for example, can have such an impact. Eliminating unprofitable downtime is an important part of this, but so is reducing fuel spend. Both of these things can be achieved through platooning; the vehicles can travel closer together and leverage the fuel-saving benefits of travelling in the slipstream of the lead vehicle. Increased connectivity can also help optimise route scheduling as well as visibility of the location and state of the cargo for both the freight-forwarder and the end-customer.
At Bosch, our accident researchers estimate that 90% of injuries caused by trucks that involve physical injury could be avoided using automation systems in the future. The technology isn’t fully mature yet, but depending on how it is configured, automated platooning could be ready to roll out within the coming decade. Truck drivers will experience several direct benefits to their work environment, with their jobs becoming less stressful, enabling them to take breaks and remain focussed, as well as taking on other tasks such as route planning.
Successfully implementing platooning is no small task, but we are adding function after function to the automation process. As part of our extensive work in the field of automated and connected mobility, we showcased a concept for fully connected and semi-automated vehicles that would enable truck drivers to take on other tasks.
It is not only the transport and logistics industries that stand to benefit; society as a whole will as well. A lot of cities experience increased pollution, road accidents, and traffic congestion due to the high volume of trucks on the roads. Imagine if the majority of accidents that cause physical injury could be eliminated through increased truck automation, and every truck could use up to 10% less fuel with each run. Reduced heavy vehicle congestion and accident risk would benefit drivers of all vehicles on the road, and efficient trucks help reduce environmental impact. Vehicle connectivity can also aid drivers in finding suitable parking areas along major freeways, as well as ensure that available spaces are used more efficiently.
The region has long enjoyed a favourable position as a logistics and transshipment hub. The UAE’s central geographic location, coupled with world-leading infrastructure, a focus on exports, and the construction of business-friendly free zones, makes it the ideal trade and distribution hub. This has enticed many leading logistics players to set up their regional operations in the country. The UAE is currently home to the world’s largest container port, and according to the World Bank’s latest Logistics Performance Index, ranks 13th among the 160 listed countries – an impressive feat for a nation that is less than fifty years old.
A rise in construction projects, particularly those in support of the highly awaited Expo 2020, has also boosted the demand for logistics services. According to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the UAE’s logistics sector is expected to fuel economic growth over the next four years. Alongside these developments is a wave of technology innovation, which in turn is part of a wider narrative within the region: increasing digitisation of businesses and governments, the emphasis on mobility and connectivity, and the transition to knowledge-led economies.
Of course, as with any new innovation, legal conditions need to be created to make automated vehicles a reality on the production lines. This is something that would require collaboration between vehicle manufacturers and lawmakers – the latter making decisions on whether automated driving is permissible within the nation’s laws. However, there could perhaps be no better place to incubate this pioneering technology than on the roads of the UAE. With driverless transport being a key element of the vision of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and taking into consideration that the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) just concluded the fourth trial run of its Driverless Vehicles Project last month, the future of platooning in the country looks promising indeed.
Kivanc Arman is the Vice President of Automotive Aftermarket for Robert Bosch Turkey, Iran and Middle East.