Several platoons of self-driving trucks just made their way across Europe. Welcome, as they say, to the future.
Although Google and Tesla are normally the companies that get most of the media’s attention when it comes to autonomous driving, it seems that manufacturers Volvo, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, DAF and Scania have just demonstrated that they’re hardly novices in this rapidly evolving field.
As reported by the Guardian, dozens of self-driving trucks arrived in Rotterdam’s harbor in the Netherlands after making their way from locations all across Europe, including cities in Denmark, Germany, Sweden, and Belgium. They all contained a human driver in case of emergencies, but they essentially acted as watchful guardians as the journey progressed.
The longest journey was taken by the Scania truck, which travelled 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) to reach its goal. Apart from being programmed to drive to their destination, all consciously aware of other traffic and potential hazards along the route, the trucks were also equipped with Wi-Fi routers. These routers allow them to drive in-sync, together, in what is technically referred to as a “platoon.”
The self-driving trucks in action. Junave IP-SNG via YouTube
When trucks drive in platoons, they are able to do something human drivers simply can’t in this regard: Save money and fuel. A recent study revealed that platooning allows trucks to drive at incredibly close but carefully maintained distances from each other, which lets them drive in each other’s slipstream.
This ultimately means that they save up to 15 percent fuel compared to human-driven truck convoys, even while using cruise control. In fact, just two platooning trucks could save nearly $7,000 dollars every single year, so it’s easy to see why these six vehicle manufacturers, along with the Dutch government, have gone all-in and decided to show that it can be done – there’s a lot of money to be saved here if self-driving trucks become the norm.
“Truck platooning will ensure cleaner and more efficient transport,” said the Dutch infrastructure and environment minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen, as reported by the Guardian. “Self-driving vehicles also contribute to road safety because most accidents are caused by human failure.”
The self-driving trucks' routes across Europe. EU Truck Platooning via Google Maps
Self-driving vehicles are seeming less like science fiction and more like, well, real-life science these days. Despite Google’s recent mishap involving one of their own autonomous car’s collision with a bus – and a near miss with a woman chasing a duck across a road in a wheelchair – they seem well and truly on the way to developing a fleet of self-driving cars, with tests taking place on a variety of roads across the world.
Tesla aren’t far behind either, having developed a fledgling autopilot feature for their electric cars that may soon allow them to refuel automatically as they drive across the United States. Even the Obama administration has signaled its support for the self-driving vehicle concept by pledging to invest $4 billion into the technology. With this level of attention, it surely won’t be long before self-driving cars and trucks are a common feature of the world around us.