The Fuse

Innovation Revolution: Peloton Technology’s Platooning Trucks Improve Safety and Save Fuel

by Leslie Hayward | May 16, 2016

For the trucking industry, fuel accounts for approximately 40 percent of the cost of running a trucking fleet. As a whole, the American trucking industry consumes 37 billion gallons of diesel fuel every year, to move 9.2 billion tons of freight. Considering the industry’s razor-thin margins, and the fact that most heavy-duty trucks only achieve roughly 6 miles per gallon, even small efficiency gains can have a tremendous impact on total fuel consumption. Importantly, freight tonnage is projected to increase by over 45 percent between now and 2040, according to the Department of Transportation.

Freight tonnage is projected to increase by over 45 percent between now and 2040, according to the Department of Transportation.

California based startup Peloton Technology has found a straightforward application of early autonomous technology to create dramatic fuel savings for a thirsty trucking industry, by enabling truck drivers to platoon and significantly reduce drag for both the leading and tailing vehicle. The technology not only matches drivers together as they travel, it automatically maintains a consistent distance between the two trucks.

How it works

reducing drag

Peloton technology is simple but effective because it reduces drag for both the leading and trailing trucks in the platoon, making the leading truck up to 4.5 percent more fuel efficient, and the following truck 10 percent more fuel efficient. The principle has been used by bicyclists in races, and it’s no coincidence that Peloton’s CEO Josh Switkes is a bicycle enthusiast who also worked in the automotive industry. Switkes realized that even though large trucks are supposed to maintain a distance of 200 to 250 feet, when one truck follows another by 35-50 feet, it’s enough to cut wind resistance and drag sufficiently to create meaningful fuel savings. It’s too short of a distance for human drivers to maintain manually, but vehicle-to-vehicle communication makes it safe for the trailing truck to maintain the correct distance.

Peloton’s technology reduces drag for both the leading and trailing trucks in the platoon, making the leading truck up to 4.5 percent more fuel efficient, and the following truck 10 percent more fuel efficient

Peloton also incorporates road sensors and automatic braking to improve safety, which is another critical concern for the trucking industry. The front truck has a radar sensor that looks 800 feet down the road, seeing further than a human driver can reliably see, and applying brakes to both trucks in the platoon when an obstacle is encountered. The reaction time of the radar sensor is also more reliable than a human driver—who take 1-2 seconds to react, while Peloton says its technology reacts in one one-hundredth of a second. The system also gives the leading driver a view of the trailing truck’s perspective, but otherwise the driving experience remains largely unchanged. The two drivers are connected by a voice communication channel, but either driver can disengage from the platoon at any time. Peloton’s system tracks the location of trucks around the country, and only recommends platooning when road, weather, and traffic conditions are appropriate.

Peloton’s first large-scale deployments are coming soon. The company will be presenting on Thursday, May 19th at the Newseum in Washington, DC, at the release of SAFE’s 2016 National Strategy for Energy Security.

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