Volvo deploys truck platooning demo on designated autonomy testing highway in N.C.

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Three Volvo VNL trucks and trailers platooning along North Carolina’s Highway 540.Three Volvo VNL trucks and trailers platooning along North Carolina’s Highway 540.

Volvo Trucks on Wednesday performed an on-highway demonstration of a three-truck platoon made up of Volvo VNL tractors and 28-foot twin trailers in Raleigh, North Carolina. The demo was held in partnership with FedEx and the North Carolina Turnpike Association and was conducted on one of the few public highways designated as an autonomous proving ground by the U.S. DOT — N.C. 540, a tolled freeway dubbed the Triangle Expressway.

Volvo’s platooning technology relies on vehicle-to-vehicle communication and advanced driver assist systems (like active braking and advanced cruise control) to enter into a platoon, with the trucks and trailers spaced 1.5 seconds apart — about 120 feet at 60 mph.

All three trucks in the platoon — one VNL 670 and two VNL 300s — were operated by professional drivers, who maintain control over the vehicle’s steering while the trucks are in platooning mode. However, using advanced cruise control and wireless vehicle-to-vehicle technology, the second and third trucks are able to maintain their following distance from their lead truck without the drivers having to use brake or throttle. The trucks were loaded with simulated loads, operating at a gross vehicle weight of 77,000 pounds each.

Whenever the lead truck slows or brakes, that information is shared instantly with the other two vehicles, which then slow, brake or accelerate based on the information from the lead truck. Drivers can assume control of the vehicle if necessary, such as if a vehicle comes between the trucks and breaks the platoon.

Vehicle to vehicle communication takes place via small antennas mounted atop the trucks’ hood and transponders mounted above the bumper.

An 18-mile stretch of the Triangle Expressway outside of Raleigh makes up the autonomous and platooning testing grounds, roughly 100 miles from Volvo Trucks North America’s headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina. The company says it intends to continue to test its platooning tech on N.C. 540 to refine the technology, identify any concerns and benefits of use by fleets.

Volvo last year held a platoon demonstration on I-110 in Los Angeles in simulated real-world conditions, carrying drayage containers from the Port of Los Angeles. That demonstration was conducted in conjunction with the University of California-Berkley.

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