Exclusive: Feds award major truck platooning contract to California PATH

A California research organization has been selected by the federal government to answer critical questions on the benefits of truck platooning in a project considered to be a significant next step in trucking automation.

California Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology (PATH), a research and development program of the University of California, Berkeley, was selected from among three research organizations that participated in Phase 1 of the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Truck Platooning Early Deployment Assessment, a U.S. Department of Transportation official confirmed to FreightWaves. FHWA has not yet formally announced the selection.

The two other research organizations vying for the next step in the project were Battelle and engineering and construction firm CDM Smith. Officials at California PATH were not immediately available to comment.

The objective of Phase 1 of the project was to develop a concept and proposal setting the stage for Phase 2, an assessment of a commercial vehicle platooning field operational test, according to FHWA.

While the private sector has been conducting independent truck-platooning field tests for several years – including initiatives by Peloton and Locomation – the FHWA-sponsored early deployment project is significant because of its potential for influencing future federal safety and operational guidelines and regulations. “System-wide impacts and the impact on truck drivers, fleet owners, and light-duty vehicle drivers still need to be assessed for operational and safety impacts,” according to FHWA.

In addition to FHWA, performance measures to be studied during Phase 2 were developed with input from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Energy.

Specific questions to be answered by California PATH during Phase 2 include:

  • What are the human factors impacts on truck drivers in long-haul operation of a truck platoon?
  • How are the other road users’ behavior impacted in the presence of truck platoon operations (e.g., highway entry/exit points, visibility, signage, etc.)?
  • How does the gap between the trucks impact the costs/benefits of platooning (fuel saving, safety, operating costs, vehicle maintenance, mobility/travel time) as well as the risks (number of cut-ins, truck driver’s behavior/acceptance/fatigue)?
  • What are the benefits of truck platooning to fleet owners?
  • What are the policy, operational and safety impacts of truck platooning?

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