Robotic convoying key to making Tesla trucks an economic home run

Canada’s Loblaw supermarkets is pre-ordering 25 Tesla electric trucks by placing a $5000 downpayment on each. They will also convert all of their fleet of 350 trucks to Tesla electric trucks by 2030. Tesla will not complete their first trucks until 2019.

Platooning will be revolutionary in cost with energy efficiency and fewer jobs

In Elon Musk’s presentation he indicated how the trucks by themselves would have 20% lower operating costs per mile than regular diesel trucks. However, by themselves for an unproven technological product the risk to adopt the electric semi truck for a commercial business would be too great for that much improvement.

It is the potential to cut costs in half by having several trucks platooning and drafting off each other which will make the Tesla electric truck revolutionary. It is not just the 10-20% extra energy efficiency. It is the need for only one experienced truck driver in the lead truck. At most regulations and security might require one low skilled driver for the following trucks or just one mall cop like security person.

Driver costs are 75% of the total cost of trucking.

With regulatory approval there is the potential to eliminate the need for drivers in the trucks that are following the lead truck.

Security considerations from the increased potential of hijacking

There are extra non-obvious security considerations for the platooned trucks. Eventually Tesla and their customers will have to expect the exact operations of the trucks to be commonly known. Truck hijackers and hackers will be able to target the trucks with full knowledge of how they work. They would be able to adapt attacks to say isolate the rear trucks while jamming.

2016 Column of 6 robotically convoyed trucks drove across Europe

Other projects in Europe have been working on platooning trucks for over a decade.
In 2016, a European self driving truck experiment known as the European Truck Platooning Challenge drove across Europe.

The European Truck Platooning Challenge, organised by Rijkswaterstaat, featured DAF Trucks, Daimler Trucks, Iveco, MAN Truck and Bus, Scania and Volvo Group; driving in platoons across national borders. This was a global first. Truck platooning means that two or three trucks connected by wifi drive in a column, with the first truck determining the speed and route. This enables shorter gaps between following trucks, while freeing space for other vehicles. The wifi connection between the trucks ensures synchronized braking and can prevent sudden jolt/shock effects. This is good news for traffic flows and speeds up deliveries. Truck platooning can realize up to ten per cent fuel savings.

Six columns of trucks arrived at Maasvlakte II after they had driven from a number of European cities to Rotterdam over the past several days.

Shipping a full truckload from L.A. to New York costs around $4,500 today, with labor representing 75 percent of that cost. But those labor savings aren’t the only gains to be had from the adoption of driverless trucks.

Where drivers are restricted by law from driving more than 11 hours per day without taking an 8-hour break, a driverless truck can drive nearly 24 hours per day. That means the technology would effectively double the output of the U.S. transportation network at 25 percent of the cost.

Trucking represents a considerable portion of the cost of all the goods we buy, so consumers everywhere will experience this change as lower prices and higher standards of living.

There are currently more than 1.6 million Americans working as truck drivers.

Princeton study of the timeline for Truck Platooning

A platoon of two trucks is like a short train driving on the road, with the trucks driving very closely
behind each other.
The distance between the two trucks can really be extremely small – creating a desirable form of tailgating. The distance can be as low as 0.3 seconds, which at 80 km/h is about 6.7 metres distance between the vehicles. Driving so close together is made possible by advanced Automated Driving technology, in conjunction with wireless vehicle-tovehicle (V2V) communication that makes it possible that the vehicles communicate with each other.

Once platooning is activated, a Following Vehicle in the platoon trails the Leading Vehicle. The Following Vehicle now follows the Leading Vehicle automatically, without interference of its driver. Because the vehicles are able to communicate with each another, they can adjust their speed and position without the typically delayed response time of a human driver. The vehicles communicate both ways, so also the Leading Vehicle can adjust its speed or position based on the response of the Following Vehicle. And since the vehicles are wirelessly coupled, it is possible to easily hop-on and hop-off from the platoon on-the-fly. There is no need to stop driving; connecting to a platoon or disconnecting can happen while driving by a push of a button.

Truck platooning has great potential for reducing transport costs, by lowering fuel consumption due to improved aerodynamics from reduced air resistance, eliminating the need for an attentive driver in the second vehicle, and better usage of truck assets, by optimisation of driving times and minimisation of idle time. On the societal level, driving safety increases as typically 90% of all accidents are human-induced, and platooning technology prevents human errors, leading to less accidents and damages. Greenhouse gas and air-quality related emissions decrease, and congestion and traffic jams are reduced.

A phased implementation is crucial for widespread acceptance of platooning technology in the society at large, and especially of other road users. We expect that large-scale deployment in the commercial transportation industry is possible within approximately a five year period (see Fig. 5), so that in 2020, a form of truck platooning (e.g., SAE levels 2 or 3) is legally permitted and commercially available. More extensive applications of platooning (e.g., SAE level 4 or 5) are not expected before 2030. Of course, there is a fair amount of guesswork in this timeline, as timing is very much dependent on political support, innovation funding, technological advancement and public acceptance. This timeline is elaborated in Section 6.2, in which we propose to commission a five-year Dutch open innovation programme towards the goal of commercial platooning in 2020.

In terms of development process, we might compare truck platooning with the growth trajectory of the LZV developments in the Netherlands. Initial small-scale experimentation started in 2000, the first wide-scale tests initiated in 2006. Final developments were wrapped up in 2012 when the LZV was officially allowed on Dutch main roads, so about 6 years later. Leveraging the encouraging experience of the LZV, we expect that developments will be along the lines of the LZV, such that platooning trucks are officially allowed on Dutch main roads in about five years’ time. Required changes to European legislation and alignment in Dutch legislation with regard to driving/resting times (EC 561/2006) and the digital tachograph (EEC 3821/85) legislation will be among the greatest threats to this timeline, as well as the technological difficulty associated with ensuring robust control over the platoon under all circumstances.

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