NXP drives truck platooning

NXP drives truck platooning

Technology News |
By Jean-Pierre Joosting

At Electronica this week, NXP and its partners demonstrated truck platooning live on Munich roads.

Adaptive cruise control, vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems and enhanced radar are some of the essential building blocks that allow truck platooning.

Platooning lets two or more trucks electronically couple so that accelerating and braking by the lead truck is relayed instantaneously to following trucks, guiding their actions. The results are closer following distances between trucks, with significant increases in fuel efficiency and safety.

Lars Reger, chief technology officer of NXP’s automotive business unit, told EE Times that at the European Truck Platooning Challenge held earlier this year, NXP, DAF Trucks, TNO and Ricardo achieved a breakthrough, platooning trucks only 0.5 seconds apart.

That translates in trucks platooning at 80 km per hour, maintaining a separation of 11 meters.

In essence, the platoon moves like one long unit, all the trucks wirelessly linked. The use of a V2V communication system and high-performance cameras allows the last truck to see the first truck’s windshield camera view, while the first truck can look behind the “caboose.”

Even when cars happen to cut into the platoon, enhanced radar on the trucks can detect such road interference “adjusting the platoon seamlessly,” according to NXP.

The V2V linking of active safety systems and synchronized braking promotes increased safety among close-following trucks. But fuel economy is another important element of platooning.

Running trucks so close together has proven to affect fuel economy significantly. Consideration the turbulence faced by each truck in a five-truck platoon, the fuel savings compute to two percent for the lead truck, 11 percent in the middle, and 9 percent for the last two trucks, under real world conditions, Reger explained.

According to NXP, a consortium consisting of NXP, DAF Trucks, TNO and Ricardo, is now seeking to cut the minimum distance between trucks to 7 meters at 80 km per hour in 2017.

NXP explained, “In this new context, the platooning system will need to reliably react 30 times faster than a human driver.” In other words, V2X communication must take place within “milliseconds,” cutting its latencies by 50 percent.

Although platooning might sound futuristic to the general public, its technologies already exist. Moreover, the regulatory hurdles trucking must overcome to use automated driving might not be as high as those for consumers’ using driverless cars. 

Regulators and the market exert constant pressure on the trucking industry to be more efficient and safe. Both in the United States and Europe, the industry sees emerging regulatory changes. They include driver hours-of-service regulations (i.e. driving time and rest periods), the introduction of an electronic logging mandate and a proposed U.S. mandate for use of technology that limits truck speeds.

NXP’s Reger observed that autonomous vehicles will be first deployed by those who are “under high commercial pressure.”

He pointed out, “That’s why we are seeing the tremendous interest in autonomous cars from Uber and Lyft.” In fact, Uber rolled out robocabs in Pittsburgh in August, and Ford recently announced that it will release a steering wheel-free autonomous car for ridesharing in 2021.

Truck platooning could be next, since commercial benefits – fuel economy and safety – have been already demonstrated. Regulations, however, will have to be tweaked, said Reger. Current rules require 50 meters between trucks, versus autonomous platooning, in which 11 meters is already possible.

Reger is fully aware of the socio-economic consequences. Asked if platooning would eventually take away a trucker’s job he said, “The industry is already predicting a shortage of truckers 10 to 15 years from now,” he said, predicting truckers will become logistics specialists.

NXP’s chips used in platooning trucks include a sensor fusion and control system that it claims can monitor and actuate platooning safely. “Even with the occurrence of external hazards or internal malfunctioning system behaviors, the convoy will operate in a fail-safe way,” NXP claimed.

The brain of the platooning truck: Sensor fusion platform Blue Box.

The basis of the system is the NXP BlueBox platform consisting of a number cruncher and a safety/vision controller (S32V234).

At Electronica, NXP also unveiled a high-performance radar microcontroller, called the S32R27. The company claims it sports a 4X improved performance per power compared to the company’s previous product, the MPC577X.

More important, the new radar MCU comes with a security level qualified as ASIL-D, the highest level of functional safety.

Enhanced performance by the S32R27 means “higher accuracy and safety for applications such as collision avoidance, lane change assistance, autonomous emergency braking, radar cocooning with 360° perception, or adaptive cruise control,” NXP explained.

In addition, the S32R27 will enable a broader range of accelerated functions by running radar detection algorithms.

NXP adds “reflexes”– as in the human body – to each of the sensor/MCUs, unlike competitors who are promoting one big computing brain in a highly automated vehicle. “Not everything has to be routed to a big main brain for sensor fusion. Each sensor should be able to make quick decisionsm” Reger said.

Vendors will vary in where and how they implement “sensor fusion” inside an autonomous car,  Reger said. He acknowledged architectural differences among various autonomous car platforms that depend in part on the “portfolio constraints” of each chip vendor.

NXP inherited a strong MCU portfolio from Freescale when the two companies merged. Reger predicted that chip vendors can start winning the autonomous car market by initially making deeper inroads into the ADAS system with a variety of sensor MCUs. By the time a super-computing automobile chip comes along, there will be enough ADAS chips already installed, offering distributed intelligent processing in the typical car.

— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times

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