Readers of a certain age might remember those bumper stickers with Yosemite Sam toting two six-shooters and yelling "Back Off!" He wasn't yelling "So you can burn more fuel!" but researchers are looking at how tailgating could save gas, and, in this case, are working with big rigs.

The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) is testing what's been known in some circles as a road train program with heavy-duty trucks in Japan, The Verge says. Under the program, a convoy of four trucks are computer-programmed to drive about 13 feet apart, which cuts wind resistance and boosts fuel economy for the trailing vehicles, The Verge reports. In fact, fuel efficiency could climb as much as 15 percent through such a program. NEDO will expand such testing efforts later this year.

NEDO's efforts are similar to those that Volvo has been testing since 2009 with variants of SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), the company's own road train concept. SARTRE involves a truck followed by three cars driving at about 13 feet apart at 55 miles per hour, and is said to cut fuel use for the trailing cars by as much as 20 percent. Volvo, which said it finalized the most recent phase of that program last September, hasn't released details on possible further testing or expansion of its road train efforts.

Check out some videos on the project below.







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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 7 Comments
      amtoro
      • 6 Months Ago
      Why is aerodynamics still overlooked on the truck designs of today? Luigi Colani designed a truck about ten years ago that has one half to one third of the coefficient of drag of a conventional truck.
      Jim McL
      • 6 Months Ago
      Those are not Japanese trucks in the photo at the top of the article, they use cab-over-engine designs like Europe. Those are American trucks with hoods and long-haul sleepers.
      ElectricAvenue
      • 6 Months Ago
      In other news, autonomous self-steering distance-regulating "rail trains" have been announced. This technology works through self-steering axles, guidance "rails", and steel "couplers" which maintain a remarkably close distance between vehicles. One operator can control a "rail train" consisting of just the cargo portion of 200 trucks, transporting goods for a fraction of the energy cost. It is even suggested that "rail trains" could be powered by an overhead electric supply, which in turn could be fed by "renewable" energy sources. Or, you could trust your life to a series of sensors and computers operating heavy equipment on public highways, burning fossil fuels. Your call. (Yes, I'm suggesting fewer subsidies for trucking and encouragement of inter-modal service, rather than trying to automate trucks. Trucks are absolutely required for most final deliveries, but long-distance trucking, to me anyways, has never made any sense. It is only a warped financial environment that makes it economic.)
        Joeviocoe
        • 6 Months Ago
        @ElectricAvenue
        "Or, you could trust your life to a series of sensors and computers operating heavy equipment on public highways, burning fossil fuels. Your call" We already trust our lives to the sensors and computers in our ABS systems, airbags, traffic lights, etc. When they fail, people do get hurt or killed. When we trust humans, people get hurt or killed too.
          Joeviocoe
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Yes, as DB pointed out... multi-redundant systems really remove 99% of the chance catastrophic failure.. usually to 10E-6. But with human drivers, there is no redundancy for the logical command of driving (unless driving those student driver cars with two wheels and sets of pedals)... regardless if the physical systems are redundant. So the likelihood of the initial failure is much higher, than if it were automated completely.
          ElectricAvenue
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          "When we trust humans, people get hurt or killed too." Absolutely true. But I think there is a big difference between the fail-safe systems in cars now and the things being proposed towards more automated driving. You mentioned ABS - if your ABS system fails, you still have fully functioning friction brakes, usually with two redundant hydraulic circuits. If the air bags fail to deploy, you are still (if you're doing it right) held by a seat belt. The steering is still mechanically linked. You could draw an analogy to aviation, and quite rightly point out that automation has gotten to the point where almost the entire flight can be done without intervention. But that is in an environment where a "near miss" is a plane being within 1000 feet vertically or a couple of miles horizontally. Pilots generally have space and time to react if something goes wrong. On the roads there are near misses almost constantly, and a mistake for a tenth of a second may be all it takes to cause an accident.
          DB
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          ElectricAvenue: I've seen a number of presentations on this system. The NEDO team has done a lot of work to make this system redundant and fault-tolerant. In the example of the brake circuit, this system has two independantly controlled air circuits for the front brakes and another two independantly controlled air circuits fromt he rear air brakes. Likewise, there are two forward sensors (radar+lidara), two steering motors, two communications systems (DSRC + Optical), two system controllers, two lane keeping systems, etc. Despite the extra cost of all of the redundancy they say their system is still quite cost effective.