Future Transportation
Trucking Is the Latest Industry to Experience Self Driving Innovation

A California-based software company has a plan to partially automate commercial trucking to allow one driver to pilot two vehicles. Peloton, as the company is aptly called (though one wonders if the name Convoy was already taken), just received $60 million in a second round of funding, and hopes to put its self driving system on the road next year. The WSJ reports:

Peloton’s system allows two trucks traveling front-to-back to be controlled by a driver in the front vehicle, creating what the company calls a platoon system. Trailing the lead vehicle by as little as 30 feet, the second truck uses about 10% less fuel because of reduced wind resistance from the lead truck, Peloton says. […]

Still, Peloton initially envisioned platoons of three or four trucks, with one person operating the front truck while those behind it were entirely driverless. That proved more complicated than planned and regulatory approval could take years. Peloton is focused instead on a two-truck system for highway travel in which each truck would be staffed by a driver who can take over when weather or traffic dictate.

Peloton, based in Mountain View, Calif., wants to introduce the system by 2018. Omnitracs LLC, a provider of remote monitoring systems for truck fleets, led the new funding round.

We’ve seen speculation that self driving cars might bunch together on the highway to reap reductions in drag and thereby increase fuel mileage, but that strategy makes even more sense for long-haul trucking, which has defined routes that allow for coordination between trucks.

There’s also a potential synergy here for trucking companies to exploit: because their routes can be planned ahead of time, autonomous 18-wheelers would make ideal candidates for compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. In this way, our country’s fleet of trucks could gas up on natural gas, and take advantage of the shale boom in the process.

We remain on the cusp of a transportation revolution whose impacts will be felt across industries at a rate and depth that will likely surprise us. This new method of moving people and things from point A to point B (to points C, D, and E, etc…) is going to increase efficiencies and likely produce both cost and environmental savings while increasing quality of life. There’s still so much to work through as these technologies mature that at a certain point it makes sense to sit back and parse these ripple effects as they come, but at a macro level we’re watching a disruptive suite of technologies come rolling in from the horizon, bringing with them the promise of a better way of life.

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