Is Car Platooning the next big thing?


The newspaper The Economist in their most recent Technology Quarterly considers whether a technology that lets drivers remain in their cars, but asks them to relinquish control on long journeys, have any chance of success. The article cites automobile “platoons” as a possible solution to congestion and would afford reduced fuel consumption.

The idea, says the article, is that “by joining platoons as they snake along motorways under the control of a professional lead driver, motorists will be able to sit back and enjoy the ride. As passengers they could catch up on some reading, watch a film, surf the internet or even have a snooze. The benefits would come from reduced congestion and lower fuel consumption. Somewhat counter-intuitively, platooning might also make roads safer.”

Reduced fuel consumption is obtained by reducing drag brought about by slipstreaming – a concept readers familiar with Formula 1 racing will understand. Effectively when a car tucks itself into the slip stream of the car in front it can attain an identical speed and burn less fuel in the process – effectively the car in front is propelling the follow-car forward.

The gap between vehicles in the platoon will be small, but computer-controlled systems would respond to any sudden braking or other hazards. The close spacing would allow more cars to fit on the road, reducing congestion.

The Economist says any car wishing to join a platoon would specify its desired destination, making it possible to identify a nearby platoon heading the right way. The car then pulls up behind the moving platoon and a wireless standard developed specifically for communications between vehicles, called IEEE 802.11p, enables the car to be enslaved by the lead vehicle, probably a lorry or coach with a qualified driver. The car stays under the control of the leader until its driver wishes to leave the platoon.

The article also points out that as ambitious as this sounds, it is more than just theory. Earlier this year road tests were carried out. The initial goal was modest: to put a single car under the control of a lorry, with both travelling at 50kph (31mph). After the success of these first tests the speed was pushed up to 70kph, and this summer the first multiple-vehicle tests will begin with up to three cars and two lorries.

0 thoughts on “Is Car Platooning the next big thing?

  • interesting stuff. i guess with oil resources inevitably gonna run out and the problems with the costs associated with electric vehicles and hydrogen technology miles away yet I could see a middle-of-the-road solution like this one. it seems improbable now but there will have to be a solution when the situation reaches crisis point and governments will have two choices (a) huge infrastructural overheads to build new types of transport for iRobot-type transport or (b) a modified road-based solution with less overhead like the car platooning above. I know which one my money is on – but lets see

  • Slipstreamer says:

    Hey, I kind of do this already, on long journeys I sneak my red 2.0 banger in behind something big and moving at a speed I like. Things like X5s and Discoveries are great as well as Transits. The bigger the car infront the better the ‘pull’, for safety reasons choosing a bigger vehicle means you can hang back a little further – think of it as entry level. I suspect Im saving about 10% in fuel but at this point its more of a game to find the target D4 tractor and see how well I can maintain a safe slipstream distance. Don’t follow Garda vans…even though they are hammering it down the N7, the force may be strong with you, but its a bit stronger with them.
    The surprise benefit here is that on smaller roads I’m shielded from hidden speed traps and the dangerous speeding driver in front gets the points. Shame on him. Saved me a few times…..
    PS, don’t try this at home, even on a scalextric track.
    PS, if you suspect someone is tailgating the best thing to do is to gently slow down and let them pass, rather than slamming on the brakes….that is not good for the nerves or bumper paintwork….

  • Slipstreamer, Cartell can not condone this practice. The Road Safety Authority has been keen to point out the dangers of slipstreaming on the open road in the manner you describe! I think you admit yourself that it’s not safe! However, the car platooning idea will work with wireless technology which will bring the vehicles safely together and hold them together meaning the driver of all vehicles in the platoon (aside from the lead driver) do not need to concentrate on driving at all – they can read or listen to their MP3 or whatever. Thanks for your contribution

  • Clare we agree with you entirely. As often the case the solution to any problem is usually the simplest adjustment. Change takes place at a relatively slow pace – consider how we still depend on trains for transportation which are very much a nineteenth century form of transportation. When all is said and done people will always want to have their independence, i.e. to own their own vehicle and drive it. The cost of change is so prohibitively high for many of the alternatives to oil-based automobile transportation that we reckon an idea like car platooning makes a lot of sense.

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