As autonomous trucks loom on the horizon, the promise of an age of increasingly efficient and safe transport is becoming a reality. But so far most of the trials of this technology have involved a small number of HGVs, with limitations on the capabilities of platooning systems leaving much to be desired.
Last week a team from the EPFL in France revealed that they have created an algorithm which addresses many of the inadequacies with current self-driving vehicle technology, allowing far more autonomous trucks and cars to cooperate with one another when sharing the same stretch of motorway, according to the International Business Times.
What makes this algorithm especially impressive is its ability to cope with creating platoons which feature a large number of vehicles of many different types, not just HGVs. This could allow self-driving trucks and cars to work together and deliver efficiency improvements even when human-driven vehicles are still on the road with them over the coming decades.
In demonstrations provided by the researchers, it is shown that the algorithm not only allows the platooning vehicles to overtake slower moving traffic and avoid collisions but also to allow other vehicles to merge on to motorways from slip roads, leaving suitable gaps to facilitate this as seamlessly as possible.
Co-Ordination is Key
Project spokesperson Alcherio Martinoli explained that the main aim was to develop an algorithm which would allow all self-driving vehicles on a particular stretch of road to be coordinated with one another. This enables fuel costs to be cut while reducing the risks facing all road users when they get behind the wheel.
He also explained that there was theoretically no limit to the number of trucks, vans and cars which could join the platoon using this technology. Furthermore, as more vehicles join up, the actual mechanisms which are responsible for managing their driving patterns are not made any more complicated.
Finding a Solution That Works for Everyone
At the moment the platooning technology used by truck manufacturers such as Scania, DAF, Iveco and Volvo Trucks is aimed squarely at improving performance of HGVs involved in long-distance transport operations. But the main problem is that the systems cannot account for the arrival of other vehicles which might interrupt the small set of cooperating trucks, meaning that there are many real-world scenarios which would possibly cause a problem and compromise the supposed benefits.
The transitional period during which autonomous vehicles arrive on the market and gradually replace traditional alternatives will take place over many years, with this French team aiming to roll out their platooning algorithm for commercial use by 2030. And it seems that this collaborative approach, where all self-driving vehicles can work with each other rather than keeping HGVs separate from cars in this respect, is the best way forward.
Allowing cross-compatibility between trucks and cars made by different manufacturers may be another obstacle which is tough to overcome as this process moves forward, but at the moment there seems to be a willingness amongst automakers to find solutions that work for everyone.