Navigant Research Blog

Truck Platooning Hits the Road

— April 20, 2016

Connected VehiclesA group of two or more vehicles traveling together and linked by wireless communications is known as a platoon. The idea is that each vehicle communicates directly with the lead vehicle so that any braking or acceleration commands are acted on simultaneously. Because the delay caused by driver reaction time is eliminated, vehicles can travel much closer together without compromising safety.

As well as using less space on the road, vehicles that are platooning save significant fuel expense mainly due to the reduction in drag. Tests have shown fuel economy improvements of up to 10% for following vehicles and as much as 5% for the lead vehicle. Actual benefits will vary depending on a wide range of factors, but they are expected to be significant. The initial benefit data came from the European Union’s (EU’s) SARTRE project led by Volvo, which ran from 2009 through 2012.

Initiatives on the Rise

There are a number of initiatives now underway to advance the technology and help bring it into production. In 2014, the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council established the Automated Driving and Platooning Task Force within its Future Truck program. In 2016, the European Truck Platooning Challenge was set up with a goal to accelerate the introduction of truck platoons by putting the subject high on the agenda of EU policymakers. The challenge is being organized by the Netherlands as part of its EU presidency.

While developing and testing the technology is very important, policymaker support is necessary for long-term success. The EU project is tackling this by coordinating both multiple vehicle manufacturers and EU lawmakers from a range of countries. A key initial step was accomplished in April 2016 when a successful pilot test was completed with teams of trucks converging on Rotterdam from all over Europe.

OEMs Lead the Way

Truck OEMs participating in the challenge include DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania, and Volvo Group. Daimler sent three of its Mercedes-Benz autonomous trucks from Stuttgart, Germany using its Connected Highway Pilot system. Iveco sent two heavy-duty Stralis semi-automated trucks from Brussels, Belgium. Volvo sent three trucks in a platoon from Gothenburg, Sweden.

The ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association) sees its role on the project as encouraging individual countries to work together to avoid creating a patchwork of rules and regulations. Shared standards will be important to encourage investments in automated and connected vehicles by maximizing future potential component volumes.

Truck platooning is an important step toward self-driving truck fleets. Navigant Research has a detailed Autonomous Commercial Vehicles report planned for 4Q 2016, and it is encouraging that on-road testing has begun already. Some of the subsystems such as sensors and sensor fusion software can be shared with suppliers and manufacturers of light-duty vehicles, as well as image processing software that can identify obstacles. More details on the consumer vehicle market for self-driving features are available in Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report, and analysis of the technology for vehicle-to-vehicle communication is featured in the Connected Vehicles report.


A Bright Future for 48-Volt Systems

— April 20, 2016

Electric VehicleWhen Navigant Research first took a look at 48-volt (48V) systems for cars back in the fourth quarter of 2013, the technology was seen essentially as offering a more powerful version of the stop-start advancements that were becoming ubiquitous in Europe and gaining a foothold in North America as a low-cost way to achieve better fuel efficiency. Prospects looked very promising. A second assessment in April 2015 identified that the practicalities of production costs had dampened the initial enthusiasm and delayed some launches, but there were still sound reasons why 48V looked set to become an established technology.

As work begins on an update to our detailed research report, it’s worth taking a quick look at the potential for the future. The production launch of the Audi SQ7 in 2016 saw the first introduction of a 48V system, and it indicates a possible future direction for the technology. As well as a more powerful stop-start system for a large diesel engine, the higher voltage makes possible an electric turbocharger for better performance and an electric suspension option that gives improved stability and ride quality over rough surfaces. More energy is recovered for reuse than is possible with a 12V system.

At First a Luxury

As has been the case for many emerging technologies in the past, the first applications are seen on high-end luxury and performance vehicles, with new functionality and performance being the primary incentives rather than fuel efficiency, as that is what people are prepared to pay for. As suppliers get behind the new technology and volumes grow, the component costs will come down and new features will be developed.

With more electrical power available, it becomes practical to introduce more accessories powered by small electric motors rather than driven via a belt on the crankshaft. By only using power when needed, such systems reduce the load on the engine and lead to small fuel economy improvements that are becoming increasingly important as governments impose penalties for missing efficiency targets. This arrangement also permits engine-off operation of functions such as HVAC and power steering.

Small electric motors can also provide some meaningful drive assistance when combined with a slightly bigger battery than the standard starter variety. On large vehicles this might save some fuel, while on smaller vehicles it could allow electric-only operation in some low-power circumstances such as coasting, sailing, and low-speed maneuvers in traffic jams or while parking. Implementing new electric suspension options also brings the ability to harvest energy, as well as to improve comfort and handling.

Europe in the Lead

48V technology development is being led by the European OEMs and Tier One suppliers such as Schaeffler, Continental, Valeo, and Bosch. At present, it appears that European vehicles will lead the rollout of the technology, which is then expected to spread to North America and some markets in Asia. Japan may be one large market exception because of its heavy investment in full hybrid drive. The introduction of 48V systems will also bring another potential growth market for battery and ultracapacitor suppliers. Once the component costs come down, there will also be new business opportunities for the technology in the commercial vehicle sector, which has developed its own 24V systems to deliver the necessary power but has never itself had the volumes to bring prices down.


Multi-modal Apps of the Future Pay Customers to Reduce Congestion

— April 15, 2016

CarsharingPreviously independent modes of transportation such as walking, bicycling, train, bus, taxi, ridesharing services, and personal vehicle usage are becoming increasingly integrated. Multi-modal programs that allow city residents to plan trips using a variety of transport options is one of the major trends in the evolution of the smart city mobility market. Application services such as CarFreeAtoZ and TripGo allow users to plan a trip with up to five mobility options and combinations (train, bus, car, bicycling, and bike-share). Other services such as the GoLA app (powered by Xerox) integrate planning options to include carsharing (Zipcar) and ridesharing (Lyft) services.

Multi-modal apps allow customers to choose the most efficient routes possible to save on commute times. Most apps also include information on the carbon emissions of the trip combinations and options, allowing users to make more informed decisions about how their trip may affect the environment.

New Apps with Big Potential

A prototype transportation app called NextCity looks to not only help users plan their commutes, but also help them get discounts on transportation options that help to reduce vehicle congestion. Users will be offered incentives to change their transportation route based on traffic conditions. For example, the app might offer a discount on the ferry or train if there is construction or an accident on a typical driving route.

NextCity is unlike some of the startups in this space that lack the infrastructure connections and financial backings to make a significant impact. The app is a project of San Diego-based Cubic Transportation Systems (CTS), a subsidiary of Cubic Corporation. CTS is a leading integrator of transportation payment and information solutions and already powers major payment systems such as London’s Oyster card, Chicago’s Ventra card, and San Francisco’s Clipper card. The baseline of public transportation data available to CTS, combined with the current operation of public transit payment systems, enables the company to not only help with route planning, but also integrate and adapt payment systems. The company’s goal is to develop the NextCity app as quickly as possible to create a single-account system covering payment for all modes of transportation (including bikes and bike-share, ridesharing, tolling, parking, etc.).

While many route planning apps are helpful to users and are increasing in adoption, adding a financial incentive to users is expected to significantly increase participation among city commuters. It’s one thing to be informed of alternative transportation options—it’s something else entirely to be paid to use them.


Toyota, Microsoft, and an Army of Software Bots to Deliver Contextual Driving

— April 15, 2016

Connected VehiclesA new Toyota subsidiary aims to provide drivers with autonomous contextual help via the assistance of software bot technology just announced by Microsoft. Skynet isn’t here just yet, but Toyota Connected Inc. represents just the beginning of where transportation is heading in the coming decades as we transition from personally owned vehicles to mobility as a service.

Bots, as they have become known in recent years, are basically just a relatively new type of app that usually runs on a server somewhere in the cloud. What makes bots special is their ability to tap into huge databases and take advantage of sophisticated machine learning to understand the meaning of a query. Those queries can come from either a human or another bot. One bot may collect information from any number of other bots, merging and presenting it to a human or vehicle interface at the edge of the cloud.

Cascade of Queries

A contemporary example might be a driver telling their car that they are hungry. This could trigger a cascade of queries that take your current location, stored data about your favorite kinds of food, finds a restaurant with an available table at a time based on how long it will take to arrive there, and returns a response of “Would you like a reservation at restaurant X at 6:45 p.m.?” All of this could stem automatically from that one original question with no further input from the driver.

Now imagine extending this concept 20 years into the future when we will have fleets of on-demand autonomous vehicles moving around cities, as projected in Navigant Research’s Transportation Outlook: 2025-2050 white paper. Today, if you are leaving one appointment and heading to another, you pull out a phone, open the Uber or Lyft app, and request a ride.

In 2035, the mobile communicator that has replaced your phone reads your calendar, sees you have an appointment 20 minutes away, knows your current meeting will end in 5 minutes, and automatically summons a vehicle to your location so that it pulls up as you step out onto the sidewalk with no intervention. Several bots have contributed to this function, including one that provides weather data, another with real-time and historical traffic information, one to monitor your calendar, and another to handle billing for the mobility service of your choice, all without any direct input from the rider.

Bot Creation

At its Build 2016 developer conference on March 30, Microsoft announced the release of bot software development framework to simplify the task of creating bots. Toyota Connected plans to utilize the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to provide services to its customers utilizing data from telematics and vehicle-to-external (V2X) communications systems. These communications pathways can provide drivers with real-time alerts about slippery roads when a vehicle ahead triggers an automated braking system or stability control, and can also enable automatic re-routing to avoid congestion or reduce energy consumption.

Navigant Research’s Connected Vehicles report projects that more than 80 million vehicles will be sold with V2X capability in 2025. Contextual data moving through the air between bots in vehicles and in the cloud is expected to reduce energy use, improve road safety, and generally make life more convenient for everyone.


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