Truck Platooning – A technology to help out-maneuver the driver shortage

It is well-known that labour shortages in all industries is a world-wide issue. One of the most extreme cases was recently experienced in the United Kingdom, where they were struggling to find commercial truck drivers to deliver essential resources, such as gasoline. Canada is not immune to the truck driver shortage, and its impact is especially felt by the Canadian forest industry.

FPInnovations has the Canadian forest industry at heart and has initiated a Truck Platooning research and development initiative, whose outcome will provide a significant solution to the driver shortage problem.

Truck platooning is a convoy of trucks that are electronically linked together. An experienced driver operates the lead truck, and the following truck responds to the lead truck’s movements through a drive-by-wire and autonomy system. Although the initiative’s primary mandate is to find solutions to support the forest industry, the development of this technology will greatly benefit other sectors, including mining operations and the transportation of products to northern communities.

FPInnovations has partnered with Robotic Research to develop SAE level 4 autonomous trucks for the transportation of goods on resource roads. Robotic Research is a global leader in autonomy and platooning technologies and was chosen for FPI’s Truck Platooning Initiative based on their expertise in this field. In addition to development of unmanned commercial shuttles and autonomous transit buses, they have also supplied the US army with autonomous convoys of military vehicles capable of operating on rugged terrain in GPS denied areas.

Robotic Research’s system will now be adapted for the harsh climates and conditions experienced here in Canada. FPInnovations is leading the Initiative to ensure that the technology is ready for all operational, regulatory and safety requirements for forestry and other natural resource industry end-users. A rigorous test program will be initiated in early 2022, subjecting the system to various temperature ranges, as well as heavy snow, hail and rainfall conditions, typical of Canadian operations. Assessing the autonomous system’s reaction to common conditions such as steep road grades, vibrations caused by washboarding, and GPS signal loss in remote areas, will be performed. Additionally, studying how the truck platoon reacts when encountering obstacles, such as wildlife and vehicle cut-ins, is crucial.

The test program will be carried out with Class 8 quad axle semi-trailer log trucks supplied by a specific truck OEM. The target completion of the Truck Platooning Initiative is in 2026 at which time the project aims to have an autonomous and connected vehicle platooning system capable of working with any truck OEM.

The goal of the Platooning Initiative is not to replace truck drivers, but to supply a technological solution that will reliably transport goods using the experienced truck drivers that are currently available. With FPInnovations’ extensive experience serving the Canadian forest sector, and Robotic Research’s proven expertise with autonomous technologies, the Truck Platooning Initiative is on-route to successfully accomplishing this goal.

For more information on the platooning initiative, please contact Aisha Manderson, Senior Researcher – Engineer in FPInnovations’ Transportation and Infrastructure group.