Michael Kropp typically spends his days behind the wheel of a big, freight-hauling truck, navigating the high-speed curves, offramps, and stop-and-go traffic typical of European highways. On a recent trip to Rotterdam, he was able to relax and take in the sights. Kropp was one of about 30 drivers participating in a test of a new automated driving technology called platooning, which links trucks via Wi-Fi, GPS, sensors, and cameras so they can travel semiautonomously behind one another. The leading rig dictates speed and direction, while the rest automatically steer, accelerate, and brake in a closely spaced convoy. “It was a little eerie to hand over part of my role as driver,” says Kropp, a 55-year-old test driver for Daimler who piloted the second vehicle in the caravan. “But it was really comfortable, especially in heavy traffic or boring stretches of road.”
Although driverless cars grab headlines, it may take decades before truly autonomous vehicles rule the road. In the meantime, semiautomated convoys can help manufacturers hone the technology while cutting emissions and fuel consumption, says Anders Kellström, who managed Volvo’s test run to Rotterdam. “Platooning is one of the first steps toward automated driving,” he says. “The technology is mature.”
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