By Cristina Commendatore, Fleet Owner

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The Sunshine State is moving along in the connected vehicle and trucking space with two new pilot projects.

The first – known as SunTrax – will test highway speed toll technology, vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications for any vehicle that travels the Florida Turnpike. The second project will explore driver-assisted truck platooning (DATP) technology on the turnpike.

SunTrax, which will be located off of I-4 in Auburndale, is a 400-acre site that will include a 2.25-mile long oval track, which will provide an opportunity for high-speed testing, along with a 200-acre infield to test tolling and automated and connected vehicles. Additionally, the entire site will be a connected environment for the testing of V2I and V2V communications.

According to Paul Satchfield, Florida’s Turnpike (FTE) district program management administrator, SunTrax will test toll equipment hardware and interoperable tolling systems, and emerging smartphone-based payment technologies. It will also study:

  • High-speed merges and entrance and exit ramps
  • High-speed testing of connected platooning trucks
  • Deployment of moveable barrier systems to provide flexible lane configurations and to test construction zone safety technology
  • Machine vision and materials testing of pavement types and markings, lane lines, and signs

SunTrax just went to construction about two weeks ago, with expected completion of the oval track in early spring 2019. Satchfield told Fleet Owner the goal would be to have the first phase of an autonomous vehicle test bed open concurrently or shortly after the oval itself opens in 2019.

Satchfield explained that the state expects these projects to bring more efficiency to fleets in the area since the state sees a healthy movement of freight coming out of the Port of Miami, the Port of Fort Lauderdale, and Cape Canaveral. Potential benefits also include improved safety, better mobility, and reduction in congestion, costs and pollution.

“The turnpike is the spine that kind of runs from Miami up through Orlando and runs into I-75, which goes straight into Georgia, so it’s a very heavily traveled truck route,” he said. “And truck traffic has been up on our roads consistently in the double digits for the last couple of years.”

Driver-assisted truck platooning

A study initiated by Florida DOT in compliance with a state House bill will study the use and operation of driver-assistive truck platooning technology in the state. Florida Turnpike is working with FDOT’s Central Office and other partners to perform the study. The expected start date of the pilot test is September 2017.

Mike Shannon, FTE transportation development director, said the state has identified 148 miles on the turnpike mainline as the basis of the pilot. “We believe we have a good location on the turnpike to do that,” he noted. “The other benefit on the turnpike is that we allow turnpike tandems, which is a full-size truck with another full-size trailer attached that could potentially tandem, so you would then have four trailers connected instead of two.”

“The goal is to get the pilot and study underway with the main goal being to implement full-time truck platooning where it is beneficial to the industry,” Shannon added. “And we’re working with industry to define where that is within the state.”

Shannon explained he expects roughly two-to-three weeks of collection of data before compiling a report of the project’s findings and presenting it to legislature. The ultimate goal, he said, is to run full-time platooning on the turnpike by this time next year.

Truck platooning

When connected, typically at a distance of 50 ft., both drivers of the platooning trucks will be controlling steering but the front driver will control acceleration and braking. When trucks platoon, the combined configuration is said to improve aerodynamic drag that allows fuel savings – 5% for the lead truck and 10% for the follower.“I don’t think people understand what truck platooning is,” Shannon said. “If you want to simplify it, it’s kind of a fancy cruise control because the drivers are still in there still steering the truck, it’s really just the braking and the gas that’s adjusted by the truck. To the public, they’ll be traveling somewhat close, but I don’t see it any different than convoys that have been around since trucks have existed. I don’t see it as being tremendously different than that. We’re starting small with two trucks, so you won’t see 10 trucks platooning and it look like a train going down the road. I think we’re starting off small and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

The project will:

  • Evaluate impacts on surrounding traffic
  • Evaluate impacts on infrastructure
  • Evaluate feasibility of conducting enforcement responsibilities when DATP trucks are operating
  • Evaluate administrative aspects of permitting DATP systems

When it comes to fuel savings, Shannon noted that the farther trucks can platoon, the more benefit they get. “We start in Florida, but I think the ultimate goal would be to extend that along international or national routes,” he explained. “Anything we can do to expand that brings benefit to the trucking industry.”

Commercial carriers interested in participating can contact Katie Wagner at Florida Department of Transportation, 850-414-4956 or