Peloton’s new automated vehicle system gives one driver control of two trucks

The trucking world has been inundated in recent years by startups and large companies alike pitching an array of automated driving technology and business strategies, all aiming to solve the big three problems with freight: safety, fuel costs and driver shortages.

For Peloton Technology, a Silicon Valley company that launched in 2011, the answer doesn’t strip out the human driver. Instead, it wants to augment a human truck driver’s ability with automated vehicle technology. The company, which has raised $78 million from BP Ventures, Intel Capital, Volvo Group and a dozen other venture and strategic investors, wants to commercialize a partially automated vehicle platooning system that enables two trucks (and someday, maybe a whole string of them) to operate at close following distances.

Peloton Technology already has a product called PlatoonPro that six customers are using in their freight operations. Now, the company has unveiled an advanced product called Level 4 Automated Following that it says will double the productivity of truck drivers. Peloton Technology revealed details on the new automated platooning system Wednesday at the Automated Vehicle Symposium 2019 in Orlando.

PlatoonPro is considered a “Level 1” driver assistance system that requires drivers in both the lead and follow trucks. In this system, the driver in the follow truck must steer the vehicle. The system controls the powertrain and brakes to allow a close following distance and immediately reacts to acceleration or braking by the lead truck. The system boosts fuel savings by an average of 7%, the company says.

With the new Automated Following system, a human driver is in the lead truck. But this time, the follow truck won’t have a human driver. The system combines vehicle-to-vehicle communication with radar-based active braking and software. Together, the human driver in the lead vehicle is able to guide the steering, acceleration and braking of the follow truck and connects the safety systems between the trucks with minimal latency, according to Peloton Technology.

“We’ve taken a different approach to commercial introduction of automation in Class 8 vehicles,” Peloton Technology CEO Josh Switkes said. “We see the drivers as the world’s best sensors, and we are leveraging this to enable today’s drivers to be more productive through automated following platoons.”

And Switkes isn’t kidding. The human driver is front and center to this technology. The lead truck relies completely on the skill set of the professional truck driver. The system works alongside any of the driver assistance features like collision warnings or automatic emergency braking that might come with the Class 8 truck. But it does not provide additional driver assistance features.

The L4 Automated Following product, which is being tested internally, will double the amount of freight a truck driver can haul in a single trip, according to the company.