Penn State named key partner in project to study truck platooning

April 24, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute (LTI) has announced that Penn State is one of seven key partners recently selected to participate in Phase 1 of a Truck Platooning Early Deployment Assessment. The $499,878 award from the Federal Highway Administration will be used to help industry and agency partners understand how truck platoons operate in realistic, operational environments.

Truck platoons, or grouping vehicles together on a roadway in a flock, have the potential to increase both road capacity and fuel efficiency. The adoption of autonomous driving technology could boost these benefits even more. 

“This type of research is extremely important in order to accurately assess how truck platooning will impact safety, efficiency and mobility,” said Sean Brennan, LTI affiliated faculty member and professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State. “To date, most testing of connected and autonomous vehicles has been done using one vehicle, typically a passenger vehicle.” 

Phase 1 of a Truck Platooning Early Deployment Assessment is part of a recent Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) made by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

The project will be led by Battelle, a global research and development organization, and funded by the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO) in cooperation with the FHWA and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. 

“This project will provide a better understanding of the behaviors and improvements achieved when automation and communication systems are given more interaction across groups of vehicles, or a platoon, in this project,” continued Brennan. “In a truck platoon, for example, this may require coordinating the braking between vehicles, which enables closer spacing than a human can achieve with normal reaction times, resulting in greater fuel savings and emissions improvements than conventional driving.”

Other key team partners include the Center for Automotive Research, SAE International, Saia LTL Freight, Volvo Group and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Now through November 2019, the team will perform detailed planning and team building to develop proposals for consideration during Phase 2 of the project.

“During Phase 1, we will define the types of testing we wish to do, given present capability in trucks, infrastructure communication systems, sensing and data management,” added Brennan. “We're particularly sensitive to the training of, and need for, human truckers who will be an integral part of the system's behavior for the foreseeable future. The drivers will still be making decisions about when to engage and disengage functionality such as cruise control, anticipating traffic situations ahead, such as construction and congestion, and evaluating system health, such as breakdowns and faults, inclement weather or poor road conditions.” 

If awarded to participate in Phase 2 of the project, the team will then execute plans, collect data, and conduct evaluations of truck platoons driven by professional drivers delivering commercial goods.

“For commercial trucks, which expend a great deal of fuel simply pushing air around themselves on open highways at constant speeds, there is additional significant opportunity for platooning, because the drag force on all the vehicles is reduced,” Brennan continued. “Past work and simulations suggests that there could be 10 to 20 percent fuel economy improvements in trucks within a platoon, versus driving a truck in isolation.”

With proposed platooning locations set to include Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, LTI will work closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) during deployment.

“We are grateful for the support that we have received from PennDOT and the PTC and look forward to coordinating with them during this project,” said Eric Donnell, director of LTI.

To support the Penn State team, Donnell and Brennan have enlisted the expertise of the Department of Civil Engineering and anticipate opportunities to collaborate with others across the University.

The Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute is Penn State’s transportation research center. Since its founding in 1968, the Larson Institute has maintained a threefold mission of research, education and service. The Institute brings together top faculty, world-class facilities and enterprising students from across the university in partnership with public and private stakeholders to address critical transportation-related problems.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 24, 2019