Original Article: November 3, 2017. Fleet News Daily (online). “Collaborative Logistics Platforms and Platooning,” bylined article by Simon Bunegar.
Wokingham, a 12th century United Kingdom market town, may seem an unlikely setting to spark a collaborative logistics revolution but it could hold the key to the future of freight mobility and help shape data-centric freight exchanges of tomorrow.
Several innovative, dynamic and enterprising technology hubs, which are busy writing the next chapters of intelligent transport, call Wokingham home. Among them is the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), which is pioneering groundbreaking research programs such as MOVE_UK. It seeks to advance driverless car technology, research congestion reduction and study the feasibility of low- emission zones. For drivers and logisticians, a concurrent platooning trial could prove transformative for the industry, if validated.
Richard Cuerden, TRL’s academy director, is overseeing the $10.7 million platooning trial. He explains why the project, which currently includes test track experimentation and will expand to road trials next year, could herald a profound change for the freight industry:
The program is designed to independently validate the real-world benefits of the technology, and it will take some years to undertake the research and reach robust conclusions. But the results of a 2014 feasibility study predict future advancements in a number of key areas including road safety, congestion and carbon dioxide emissions reduction. For operators and collaborative logistics platforms, the technology has the potential to deliver fuel economy benefits. Platooning also could help improve operator margins by maximizing capacity and consolidating opportunities, thus reducing empty miles.
The Role of Freight Exchange Platforms
The promising efficiency gains that Cuerden describes (i.e., minimizing wasted miles, reducing emissions and enhancing capacity utilization) are already woven deep into the fabric of freight exchange platforms. So, does Cuerden believe that collaborative logistics platforms and platooning could one day work in harmony as part of the connected, interoperable freight landscapes of tomorrow?
Subject to validating the safety and engineering cases in a series of real-world tests, I think, in theory at least, it is plausible that a synergy could develop between the two in the future. Certainly, if the platooning concept could be embedded into the DNA of collaborative logistics platforms, which are already extremely well-versed and fluent in providing live availability mapping visibility to truckers, it could deliver a multitude of financial, environmental and societal benefits for the operator, the customer and the general public.
Cuerden paints the following picture of how collaborative platforms and platooning technology could deliver tangible benefits:
In the long-term future – and my answer is heavily premised on many caveats including the outcome of platooning trials, legislative consent and the acceptance of the freight sector– it might be possible to create multi-vehicle convoys that combine trucks, commercial vans and even passenger cars. It is at this point where the narrative changes slightly from a story focused on platooning to one that is centered on connected trucks. For this vision to be realized, trucking companies will need collaborative logistics platforms to provide the real-time visibility required to identify platooning opportunities that will help deliver the greatest fuel savings and increase payload maximization opportunities. Eliminating spare capacity can potentially lower the freight sector’s empty running count.
Theoretically speaking, in five years’ time a data-driven freight exchange platform providing real-time mapping visibility that allows users to identify potential platooning opportunities could help improve margins.
5G: A Prerequisite to the Tomorrow’s Truck Platooning Landscapes
The question becomes, Can this exciting vision be realized without next-generation wireless telecommunications networks? Some say that next-generation 5G networks are the key to unlocking any future platooning freight exchange model. According to a recent report from CTIA, a trade association that represents the U.S. wireless communications industry, 5G networks will operate at ten times the speed of 4G and hold the potential to respond four times as quickly. Such drastic time reductions between data request and receipt will provide the real-time data foundations on which both platooning and the smart cities of the future can be built.
According to Cuerden, 5G networks, which will be rolled out in the United Kingdom in the early 2020s (the U.S. launch is predicted around the same time), will have little bearing on the platooning technology over the near term. It relies on WiFi P and radar and video detection technology to digitally connect convoys. He explains,
The industrial WiFi system that our consortium developed has very little in common with a home WiFi network. Not only is it durable and resilient, working in all weather conditions and temperatures, it utilizes a low-latency, multi-channel architecture to ensure that trucks in a platoon always receive a strong signal in high-density data environments, enabling the platoon to react and respond to changes in milliseconds. In terms of latency, 5G probably won’t deliver any extra benefit, at least not in the short term. As the performance of 5G networks will vary, it is highly likely that there will be some data lag issues in the 5G mobile network. Therefore, we will be using WiFi-P technology for digitally-enabled convoys for the foreseeable future.
While 5G will not replace WiFi P, Cuerden believes it could exercise a more dominant role if the freight industry, the transportation sector and car owners turn to platooning. He adds,
We are running trials with three trucks, but future large-scale pilot projects could, in theory, include hundreds of trucks. A project of this magnitude cannot rely on 4G networks. They are not fast or reliable enough and lack the required bandwidth to handle the huge amounts of data such an experiment would generate. The architects who navigate these highly complex freight supply chains will need to fully embrace 5G networks and the leading-edge technology they facilitate. Those freight exchange platforms, freight forwarders and the logistics giants who are able to incorporate the Internet of Things and the physical internet into their freight platforms will be well placed to flourish.
In the near future, Cuerden thinks that 5G could empower drivers who are already using collaborative logistics platforms, navigation and mapping by providing them with “a fast-data buffering service” in addition to WiFi-P technology.
While WiFi P will facilitate the coupling and decoupling process, in terms of monetizing and commercializing the technology somebody will need to harness and leverage the dynamic flow of real-time backup data. If freight exchanges can gather this information from operators, vehicles, the goods being carried and physical roadside infrastructure and cross-docking hubs – and process, disseminate and relay this data in real time to those seeking platooning opportunities – 5G will be the technological quantum leap that will enable them and the logistics sector to take this next step.
5G also may allow new technologies such as Augmented Reality to flourish, which could enhance live mapping availability technology, both for dispatchers and drivers, allowing them to gain a multidimensional, real-time picture of the freight landscape. And, with the drivers of the future potentially taking on the role of co-pilots, Virtual Reality could become an invaluable tool, enabling them to better visualize routes and also provide a platform for education and training. Given the growing shortage of drivers, it could prove highly beneficial for the freight sector.
The Importance of Regulatory Frameworks
The advances that 5G wireless technology could deliver are remarkable and extraordinary. Cuerden believes that, in addition to proving the safety case, an effective system of regulatory infrastructure and information sharing is needed before this collaborative new platform could be established.
While collaborative logistics networks can provide virtual platooning fleets with real-time visibility, helping them to accurately pinpoint opportunities to couple and de-couple, and to highlight the most cost-effective re-routing opportunities, the government will need to manage, administer and oversee platooning on a daily basis. In theory, the government would vet all potential convoy opportunities, taking into account inclement weather, congestion and other factors before giving permission. This information would, in theory, need to be relayed in real time so that the freight exchange platform could provide its members with up-to-date routing opportunities and real-time pricing.
Cuerden further believes that before collaborative logistics networks can fully integrate platooning services into their platforms, they must bridge an incompatibility gap. It is a challenge that the industry is up to, says Cuerden.
For the business model to be commercially viable in the future, any truck, regardless of its size, age and make, must be able to platoon effortlessly and seamlessly. Two years ago, the European Community, as part of the Horizon 2020 program, commissioned a project to develop, test and validate the efficacy of multi-brand platooning in real traffic conditions. The initiative, which will establish the standards for multi-manufacturer platooning, is due to conclude around the same time as our trials. If both projects scientifically verify the robustness of platooning, then this could be the first step in harmonizing the technology in commercial operations.
About the Author
Simon Bunegar is senior vice president of marketing, CX North America Information Services Inc. a leader in freight collaboration and communication solutions for the transportation industry. He is passionate about helping businesses excel by combining smart technology with business process innovation and common sense.
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