For Ballarat drivers making the familiar trip home from Melbourne it can be a daunting sight: The long climb up from Bacchus Marsh to Pentland Hills and a virtual wall of trucks hauling their massive tonnage up the incline.
Imagine then the possibility of the idea, which has been proposed overseas and is closer to reality than commonly thought, of truck platooning
This is more than a lot of trucks travelling together, the concept is essentially a convoy of trucks linked using vehicle-to-vehicle communication , where the lead truck does the driving and the others tag along, linked by modern technology. The applications can vary from the drivers in the following trucks monitoring their rigs in the “platoon” to following trucks having no driver at all.
Professor Michael Milford who has investigated the concept has asked; “Should Australian truckies feel a little nervous about the rise of platooning?” but perhaps the question more people will ask is should motorists be worried.
While the public may just be getting used to the concept of driverless cars as the technology leaps ahead; albeit not without its share of mishaps and obstacles; the notion of colossal road trains on our freeways being largely without drivers creates another feeling altogether.
Technology certainly has proven some of these instinctive fears wrong and when the advantages are many the idea is certainly worth exploring.
A key motivator is that nearly 70 percent of the five million tonnes of freight is moved by trucks in Australia and platooning could add the benefits fuel efficiency, savings on driver costs and in some circumstances even safety because the trucks are better coordinated for such things as slowing or braking.
Most people will be concerned at how these benefits, particularity simple profit incentives, stack up against the risks. The balancing act between human fallibility and technological advances will be watched acutely.
So to will the options about how to implement the concept and whether this platooning would take place on our existing freeways or on specially dedicated lanes, or even their own new built roads.
The latter surely demands such huge infrastructure investment that it begs the question of whether we don’t already have a purpose built freight-way called railways.
Either way there is likely to be some intriguing technology coming our way.