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Keep on Truckin’

Since it’s an area where so much interesting embedded technology is being deployed, you may have noticed that we’ve done our share of transportation related posts – positive train control, driverless cars… Today, we’re once again on the highway, but this time it’s to talk about trucks.

What caught my eye here was something in The MIT Technology Review on Peloton Technology. They’ve developed a solution that lets big rigs form electronically connected convoys. With the Peloton technology in place, the trucks will be able to travel closer together. With the cut-down in resistance this will result in, there’ll be considerable fuel savings. And because the sensing technology that’s in place translates into far quicker reaction time, hitting the brakes will be faster than a trucker could do on his own. So far, Peloton has been demonstrating this on two-truck convoys, but theoretically, more trucks could join in. (It would be interesting to see how the fuel savings and safety record would compare with one cab hauling two trailers in tandem. And I would think that Peloton would want to do some demonstrations with a larger convoy.)

Peloton’s system consists of radar sensors, a wireless communications system, and computers connected to each truck’s central computer. Video screens in both cabs show the drivers views of blind spots around the two vehicles. (Source: Tech Review)

If you’ve ever watched the Tour de France, you’ve probably heard the word peloton used. In the bicycling world, it’s used for the pack of riders cycling in close formation, decreasing the energy usage of those further down in the pack.

Closer to home, it’s the same idea as the draft used in car racing, especially NASCAR races at the big “restrictor plate” tracks (Daytona and Talladega.) The approach does, indeed, save fuel for both race car drivers, and also allows them both to go faster than either one alone. It would be scary to be the second guy in the chain – who wouldn’t have the benefit of the Peloton auto-braking technology.

Anyway, the concept is very interesting, and it’s also interesting to see a Silicon Valley start-up tackling such a heavy-duty application.

Peloton’s not alone, as there are other groups doing the same. (The one in Europe is weirdly – to me, at least – called SARTRE(Safe Road Trains for the Environment). What trucking has to do with French existentialism, I don’t quite get.)

Peloton’s system will be commercially available in 2015. Their business will likely be getting a boost from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which:

…has indicated that it plans to mandate such communications systems in new vehicles in the hopes of improving road safety.

Next year, when I’m on the NY State Thruway, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for convoys that look like they’re rolling in dangerously close formation. Hopefully, they’ll be equipped with Peloton or something similar.

In the meantime, there are a couple of videos on the Peloton Tech site, and on Bloomberg, that show how it all works.