Platooning: Creating space to relieve congestion

The number of electric vehicles on UK roads is expected to hit 25 million by 2035 – an increase that will significantly increase congestion.

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While political solutions are being sought to contend with this predicted rise, platooning technology for passenger vehicles could improve motorway utilisation and make significant vehicle energy savings, which have been conservatively estimated at between four and 10 per cent.

To keep pace with government carbon reduction plans and electric vehicle (EV) deployment targets, the number of EVs on UK roads could increase from 100,000 today to three million by 2025, soaring to 25 million by 2035.

These figures have been outlined in a paper by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, which suggests that the lower taxes and reduced running costs compared to ICE vehicles will encourage more use of private cars and more road miles to be driven by motorists.

Consequently, congestion is set to worsen, and the time wasted while stuck in traffic is at the same time predicted to rise by up to 50%.

The suggested solution is to reform taxes and shift to a road pricing methodology, yet Innovate UK’s Transport Vision 2050 report indicates that this could take as long as 2040 to introduce.

Even with tax reform to discourage unnecessary road travel, population growth means that congestion will remain a significant issue for the foreseeable future, resulting in lost productivity and reduced quality of life.

As a result, other solutions are needed to help ease congestion, increase road utilisation and improve traffic efficiency, regardless of political changes. Platooning is one such solution.

While platooning has been on the horizon, the technology typically focuses on commercial vehicle applications.

Yet the development of such solutions for passenger cars has the potential to be ground-breaking, with the benefits significant and wide-reaching.

Platooning optimises the flow of traffic streams, allows shorter distances between vehicles while still ensuring safe operation, and prevents ‘perturbations’ – the phenomenon of waves of braking and acceleration that transmit through manually controlled, high-density traffic.

It enhances passenger comfort, increases vehicle efficiency, lowers emissions and improves utilisation of the existing road infrastructure.

This then reduces the need for new road building to accommodate the anticipated rise in traffic levels.

Cooperative positioning between platooned cars, comprising advances in ranging and vehicle communications, along with algorithms developed to ensure data integrity, enabled by a variety of range-finding sensors, with the resulting data communicated between vehicles via low latency communication protocols.

The development of algorithms to ensure data integrity – and required to authorise the positioning of platooning vehicles – will be hugely significant to such solutions.

While there are a great many factors that influence traffic density on any given road – from weather conditions to highway design, platooning on main arterial routes has the potential to increase capacity compared to manual driving while improving vehicle efficiency and energy consumption, and simultaneously improving passenger comfort.

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