TORONTO - Imagine being passed by eight semitrailer trucks - only one of which has a driver.
That's the vision of a 'platoon' system now being modeled by transportation researchers in Germany.
Named Promote-Chauffeur, the truck control system already is being tested in a simpler, two-truck prototype on European roads.
The two-truck project, called 'Towbar,' uses automated controls to allow one unmanned truck to closely follow and mimic the actions of a driver-controlled truck. The Promote-Chauffeur study also has computer-simulated truck convoys without any drivers at all - so-called 'autonomous platoons' of trucks.
Promote-Chauffeur intrigues trucking companies and road planners seeking to stretch budgets by making traffic more efficient. The German project has the backing of DaimlerChrysler, which cooperated for the simulation by making a computer-data model of a large truck and its behavior for the simulation.
'Our system will have to run in conventional traffic,' said German auto industry consultant Thomas Benz, who discussed the automated truck-driving system last month in Toronto at the sixth World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems in Toronto.
He said the study hopes to learn 'how personally driven vehicles affect such a couple and how electronically coupled trucks affect traffic flow,' Benz said.
Benz's computer model used real data from European roads to test virtual convoys of up to eight trucks, analyzing the simulated performance and behavior of the driverless rigs.
The modeling was done using hour-by-hour data collected over the course of a year at the Brenner Alpine Pass, which connects Austria and Italy. The pass is a major commercial-truck route.
Benz witnessed a surprising increase in overall traffic speed during the modeling. Trucks were no longer blocking other traffic and were able to follow one another more closely, freeing up road space.