The automated driving process known as platooning allows heavy-duty trucks to follow each other at close, safe distances, reducing drag on a lead vehicle and maximizing fuel efficiency.

With the help of sensors, vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V), and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to enforce coordinated accelerating and braking, the platoon eases the drivers’ workload – and potential road stress.

But what if the highway is covered in snow and ice? How will a platoon of trucks handle unpredictable obstacles?

In a live presentation this month titled Connected Commercial Vehicles: Platooning, ADAS, Autonomous – More Than Mere Buzzwords, a Tech Briefs reader asked guest speaker Ethan Ott:

How does road condition impact a platoon and change vehicle-to-vehicle responses?

Ott is Senior Engineer at Daimler Trucks North America, the Portland, Oregon-based manufacturer of the first self-driving big rig (debuted in May of 2015). Read Ott’s edited response below:

Ethan Ott: One of the things that we see as critical is having some kind of communication mechanism between the two drivers.

In terms of detecting hazards, the lead-vehicle driver should be in control of the vehicle and responding to any traffic conditions as they arise. Also, we have the normal adaptive cruise-control radar and camera back-up systems that should allow the lead vehicle to respond appropriately in those conditions. And once you have that information and those intentions from the onboard safety system, you can communicate that to the following vehicle over V2V.

Typically the surface conditions will be fairly similar for the two platooning vehicles – if there’s reduced braking capability, for instance, that’s going to affect both trucks somewhat equally. We could get sensors, and there could be temperature limits that disable a system if there’s a chance of ice.

Ultimately, we still have drivers in both vehicles, and it’s up to them to make the final decision of whether the situation is conducive to this kind of close following, and to understand the limitation of this system.

Share your ADAS comments and questions below.

Daimler Trucks North America LLC debuted its self-driving big rig in May of 2015. (Image Credit: Daimler)