Driverless platoons

As driverless cars merge into our transportation system in the coming years, some researchers believe autonomous vehicles may save fuel by trailing each other in large platoons. Like birds and fighter jets flying in formation, or bikers and race car drivers drafting in packs, vehicles experience less aerodynamic drag when they drive close together. But assembling a vehicle platoon to deliver packages between distribution centers, or to transport passengers between stations, requires time. The first vehicle to arrive at a station must wait for others to show up before they can all leave as a platoon, creating inevitable delays. Now MIT engineers have studied a simple vehicle-platooning scenario and determined the best ways to deploy vehicles in order to save fuel and minimize delays. Their analysis, presented this week at the International Workshop on the Algorithmic Foundations of Robotics, shows that relatively simple, straightforward schedules may be the optimal approach for saving fuel and minimizing delays for autonomous vehicle fleets. The findings may also apply to conventional long-distance trucking and even ride-sharing services.”