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Keep on trucking? No, Keep on Platooning!

Keep on trucking? No, Keep on Platooning! thumbnail


The concept of “platooning” involves electronically connected trucks running close to each other. It is a much more innovative idea than that of self-driven private cars and it has the potential of revolutionizing road transport by drastically reducing costs. (image from

Self-driving cars (or “automated vehicles,” AVs) are all the rage in the debate. In most cases, we have a lot of hype and little evidence but it is also true that such cars are not impossible. So, what can we say about this idea?

I often say that technological progress is subjected to the golden rule that it  generates more problems than it solves. So, not unsurprisingly, the way AVs are normally proposed today, they would solve no important existing problem but would  bring new ones.

In most AVs schemes, you are still supposed to own a car, use it to commute to your job, take your family to a vacation – the only difference with AVs is that you are relieved of the drudgery of having to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. But a recent study reports that, in equivalent conditions of owning a driverless car, people tend to log in more miles and keep their cars circling around rather than bothering about finding a parking space. Not exactly the way to reduce traffic congestion and pollution.

But there is a different application of AVs which may qualify as a true technological breakthrough. It is “platooning.” (Image from The Business Times). At first sight, it doesn’t look like a big innovation. Trucks running close to each other? Didn’t that already exist under the name of “trailers”?

But there is a breakthrough here, and it is a big one. First of all, platooning doesn’t need the massive complication of a completely self-driving car. A platoon of trucks is still supposed to be controlled by humans – all what is needed for platooning are sensors and actuators coupled with some computing control. Then, of course, you need safety equipment to ensure that a “de-platooned” truck doesn’t run awry, but that should not be a problem. Platooning is one of those “sweet” technologies that need only existing subsystems to function.

Then, the advantages. A minor one is that a platooned truck has a lower aerodynamic resistance. But this is peanuts in comparison to the real advantage of the scheme: saving on the cost of personnel. The platooned trucks simply do what the first truck does, there is no need for every truck to have a driver. So, connect two trucks together and you halve the number of drivers needed. Connect three or more, and you proportionally reduce the cost of the human drivers.

Now, according to a recent study of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the cost of drivers represents 40% of the total transportation cost per mile (p. 24 of the report). You see how big the change could be just in terms of reducing the number of drivers.

But there is more. Right now, there is no interest in slowing down trucks in order to save fuel because the cost of drivers rises proportionally to the number of hours traveled. But for platooning it makes sense to slow down the whole train and reduce fuel costs. Slower trucks also bring less accidents and consequently lower insurance costs. Slower speeds also allow to use smaller engines and simpler technologies. And that would also reduce the need of maintenance of roads and bridges. All these effects come together in bringing costs down.

So, platooning is a big innovation. But it must be seen in light of the evolution of the whole society. Alice Friedemann has argued in her book “When Trucks Stop Running” that trucks are a critical element of the way modern society function. Will we have sufficient resources to keep trucks running in the future, platooning or not?

Surely, a complete societal collapse generated by resource depletion or runaway climate change would necessarily insure that the transportation system would collapse, too. But platooning could make trucking much more resilient. If trucking were to use less energy, trucks could be made to run on electric power provided by batteries or by overhead wires. Current rubber tires are made from petroleum but if the trucks slow down we won’t need so much rubber as we do today and rubber synthesized from biological sources could do the job. The same is true for the asphalt of roads: slower trucks would place a lower strain on road surfaces and we might go back to “Macadamized” roads.

So, platooning is an innovation that we shouldn’t ignore. And, as usual, it will have important impacts – not necessarily good. Substantially lowering the cost of road transport will make it more competitive in comparison to rail. This could further marginalize the already marginal role of railroads in freight transportation. Then, nothing prevents from platooning also buses or other kinds of vehicles, also reducing transportation costs. That might mean the end of railroads, except for high-speed trains where road vehicles can’t compete.

But the truly major effect of platooning is on employment. In the US alone, there are more than 3.5 million truck drivers. Trucking is the most popular medium-skill jobs still available in most of the industrialized world. Platooning may create millions of unemployed drivers. How society will react to that is hard to say, but the shock is likely to be felt.

As usual, we move into the future driven by enthusiasm and by the idea that better technologies automatically mean better life. Platooning is just one of the new technologies which may lead us to some direction that we might not have wanted to take. But we will.

Cassandra’s legacy by Ugo Bardi

74 Comments on "Keep on trucking? No, Keep on Platooning!"

  1. GregT on Mon, 12th Feb 2018 11:13 pm 

    “Climate change.”

    Agreed. Unfortunately CC is only one of numerous threats facing humanity. Overpopulation being at the root of all of them, which happens to be the direct result of a surplus in energy.

  2. GregT on Mon, 12th Feb 2018 11:23 pm 

    “A smooth regression is hard to imagine”

    I would consider that to be highly improbable, bordering on impossible.

    “I know you are praying for that though because without the rule of law you are dead meat in your cabin in the woods!”

    The longer BAU continues on, the worse the consequences will be for all of humanity. I am hoping for it, because the lives of my children, who are your age, will be absolutely horrific if we don’t change course soon.

  3. Cloggie on Mon, 12th Feb 2018 11:33 pm 


    Some departments of “humanity” breed harder than others.

    If department A breeds like mad men, than that is the problem of department A, not of “humanity”.

    It is time for our department B to stop acting like the world’s Albert Schweitzer, revamp our armies, not to invade Farawayistans, but to defend our own borders against invaders, if necessary with ruthless violence.

    If we don’t do that we will be history.

    The time that Europeans could rule the entire world is definately over (thanks to ZOG-USA and ZOG-USSR and Churchill), self-preservation through radical segregation is next and it is going to happen. We need to give up large territories, large parts of the US, Down Under, South-Africa, London.

    The coming decades won’t be for the faint-hearted.

  4. MASTERMIND on Mon, 12th Feb 2018 11:35 pm 


    Solar and wind are scams you fool! They made up less than one percent of total energy last year! per IEA…You have been duped you retard!

    UC Davis Study: It Will Take 131 Years to Replace Oil with Alternatives (Malyshkina, 2010)

    University of Chicago Study: predicts world economy unlikely to stop relying on fossil fuels (Covert, 2016)

    Solar and Wind produced less than one percent of total world energy in 2016 – IEA WEO 2017

    Fossil Fuel Share of Global Energy since 1990 – BP 2017

  5. MASTERMIND on Mon, 12th Feb 2018 11:40 pm 


    I would rather the collapse come as late and possible! I dont want to die yet! The planet will be fine! You green nutters are so dumb! The earth has been through five mass extinctions in the past before humans even evolved! This is just a natural cycle. So go guilt trip someone else!

  6. MASTERMIND on Mon, 12th Feb 2018 11:41 pm 


    Nice link to the bet you can find some real sophisticated stuff their? Am I right? LOL

  7. GregT on Mon, 12th Feb 2018 11:44 pm 

    “self-preservation through radical segregation is next and it is going to happen.”

    Unfortunately, I see the same. Humans always point fingers at others when times get difficult. It isn’t going to stop at racial division either.

    “The coming decades won’t be for the faint-hearted.”

    No doubt.

  8. GregT on Mon, 12th Feb 2018 11:46 pm 

    “I bet you can find some real sophisticated stuff their?”

    That would be ‘there’ MM, not ‘their’.

  9. GregT on Mon, 12th Feb 2018 11:48 pm 

    “I would rather the collapse come as late and possible! I dont want to die yet!”

    Two very different kinds of collapse MM. An economic collapse is survivable, and environmental collapse is not.

  10. makati1 on Mon, 12th Feb 2018 11:56 pm 

    MM is pure ignorance yet claims to be a genius … in his narrow mind.

    Unless you are at ground zero, in which case you will likely not even know it happened, (POOF! GONE!) you may not die for years or even a decade or more. That is how long it takes for the cancers to be deadly. A long. slow death, not the fantasy MM pictures. Is he even 12 years old?

  11. Cloggie on Mon, 12th Feb 2018 11:57 pm 

    Am I right?

    No, you’re left.

    Auslaufmodel der Geschichte

  12. makati1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 12:00 am 

    I plan to survive the collapse. That is called prepping. I’m well on the way to being prepared.

    The environmental collapse may also happen in my life time, if I have another 20 or so years. That one is more difficult to prep for, but it may be possible. Location. Location. Location.

  13. MASTERMIND on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 12:12 am 


    you are totally outnumbered! prepping is for uneducated fundamentalist religious people! LOL oh wait you are an uneducated construction worker! Perfect fit! Educated liberals like myself are wise enough to know if society collapse along with the rule of law..You are a dead man..

  14. MASTERMIND on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 12:15 am 


    You think an economic collapse is survivable? I don’t think you understand what an economic collapse means..It means every corporation, social program, government, bank, currency, going bankrupt at once….After that happens it will be fight club and people eating people!

  15. MASTERMIND on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 12:18 am 

    Our global society is too intertwined to argue that collapse will envelope only one geographic part of civilization.

  16. GregT on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 12:20 am 

    “You think an economic collapse is survivable? ”

    No, I do not ‘think’ that an economic collapse is survivable, I have absolutely zero doubts that it is.

  17. GregT on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 12:27 am 

    “Our global society is too intertwined to argue that collapse will envelope only one geographic part of civilization.”

    There is no such thing as a ‘global society’. People all around the world live in different societies.

  18. GregT on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 12:38 am 

    Also MM,

    What you would consider to be civilization, is not how everybody in the world today already lives.

  19. makati1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 12:50 am 

    Greg, he keeps proving my point that Americans have no idea what the rest of the world is like. Most have never been out of their state and certainly not the country. If they did visit a foreign country they never left the tourist trails and westernized places. Absolutely no idea of how the other seven billion people really live. Totally brainwashed.

    Even where I am moving to the farm, you can drop down and see the people and buildings along the road and our driveway entrance. The recording is only a year old. You can drop down and visit Makati as if you are in a taxi. Amazing what is available if you are curious and want to learn. Most Americans don’t want to know. They don’t want to wake up to the nightmare that is America today.

  20. MASTERMIND on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 1:01 am 

    If you really want to go down the rabbit hole. Try a Google search for “White Couples” no quotes! LOL

  21. MASTERMIND on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 1:02 am 

    Click images after you search sorry..

  22. Anonymouse1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 1:20 am 

    Greg, MM IS the exceptionalist. He used to flog that exact same, shopworn, interconnected world trope of his non-stop a year or so ago. He had to jettison that when it became clear no one was buying into his feeble attempts to use it to try to whitewash amerikan criminality. He just changed the wording ever so slightly.

    The exceptionalist absolutely *loved* that argument. He figured he could use it to absolve amerika of pretty much all blame in all instances by wailing…

    “But but its the interconnected, complex world to blame,[for whatever] and not my saintly amerikan empire of demockracy and freedom fries.”

    I cant say I am at all surprised, he is attempting to revive that horeshit again, this time as ‘Mushmind’.

    Pointing his pudgy fingers at something called, ‘global civilisation’, is one way to help keep the spotlight off his beloved exceptional empire. At least, that’s how he’d like it to work.

  23. Davy on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 3:46 am 

    “Greg, MM IS the exceptionalist.”

    “Lol and you are greggie” what’s da madder dummy did I kick you in the shorts yesterday. A Canadian millennial waste case that thinks everything is an American/Jewish conspiracy is pretty stupid.

  24. Davy on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 3:51 am 

    “Greg, he keeps proving my point that Americans have no idea what the rest of the world is like.”

    Sure, billyT, just like you have no clue anymore what America is like? You have been away so long. You are getting senile and paranoid in your little cocoon in Makati, Manila. I can also say the same about our other anti-American experts who have never been here or like the Canadians millennial waste case probably been to Seattle once. All you extremist live your extremist lives digitally and in a very closed micro-world of hate..

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