Platooning and Autonomous Trucking

A few weeks ago Fedex and Volvo made a splash here sharing their partnership and testing of trucks using Autonomous Driving. When I visited the launch, I was thrilled to see them in action and learn more about this exciting technology.

Town staff and I got a chance to get in the trucks, talk to the engineers, but not much more. So when they offered us another opportunity to get up close and personal, I jumped at the chance.

Volvo Trucks ready for the trip

Volvo Trucks ready for the trip

George (Volvo Engineer extraordinaire) explains, I ask loads of questions

That’s when trucking rocked my world.

There, I said it.

Who thought I could really get psyched about an 18-wheeler?


Autonomous Driving Trucks

First, a clarification. When folks talk about autonomous driving, we sometimes think of driverless cars, and that’s certainly part of the definition.  But we are a long way way from that.  The evolution of this automotive technology has great promise,  an ability to improve safety for all drivers, reduce gas consumption and reduce traffic congestion.  I do believe that it will someday be a reality.

In the world of autonomous driving, there are 6 levels (0-5) used to describe the capabilities.

Graphic from SAE International

The levels start from 0 – meaning the driver is totally in control with no automation and no assistance from any technological device, to full automation, when the driver can take over, but is not needed.  There are cars today that have a number of improvements – Tesla’s autopilot mode, for instance, is often cited as being at Level 2 (some say Level 3). Level 2 is called Partial Automation”  where the vehicle is controlling the steering and speed without the need for driver interaction for short periods of time, meaning under a minute or shorter. These are the kinds of cars that will have “lane keeping” (staying in your lane) and will brake for the driver when they get too close to the car in front.  The car can react quickly, often quicker than you, but the driver is STILL NECESSARY and needs to be paying attention to the road and surroundings.

The levels go up from there, meaning more automation, less need for the driver to intervene – where the systems in the vehicle will continue to assess the situation and alert you if and when it needs assistance.

Platooning Explained

The technology for the trucking industry I saw was called “platooning.”  It’s similar in concept to the idea of a platoon in sports – where players can substitute and play in a rotation at the same position.  The idea, in trucking though, is when a number of trucks, that have highly integrated and state-of-the-art driving systems that are all talking to each other so that they can follow each other closely down the road.  This is what they call a “platoon.” Each of these trucks is communicating through an integrated computerized system with information about their location, the distance between them, understanding who is the lead truck and ensuring their speed, distance apart (longitudinal) and systems are all working.

Platooning Trucks on 540

The Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control, a wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communication technologyis monitoring any changes and quickly reacting – so that if a car or other vehicle interrupts the platoons, say gets in between the trucks, the system drops out of the platoon between those trucks.  The distance between the trucks was about 100-140 feet, or about 1.5 seconds at 60mph.  These equipped trucks can brake more quickly than a human driver!  Our tour guide/Volvo engineer, George Bitar said that the best way to think about it, is to think of this technology as “gap management.”  Makes sense.

Drafting from Wiki How

The promise of this ability is pretty clear. The monitoring of these changes and quickly reacting can truly improve safety on the road.  It’s also a real cost saver.  Platooning provides the benefits that I see when I cycle – especially when I draft behind another cyclist.  Putting aerodynamics to work, when we ride in a single file, I get to take advantage of the slipstream that is created by the front rider.  That means when I’m the back rider, I save a ton of energy and can leverage that to ride longer.  This same formation works for trucks.  The energy (or gas savings) is not only realized by the back trucks, but the front vehicle also benefits, with increased savings.  Besides the safety and cost savings, the belief is that these systems will also reduce traffic congestion, as well.

So, how did this work?

After jumping into the truck, we got a detailed overview of all of the sophisticated equipment in the vehicles.  These were standard Volvo AB trucks fitted with special equipment, with two white and unmarked 28 foot Fedex trailers. They also have full payloads so that the tests truly simulate real road conditions.  These trucks have it all, from radios, sensors, radar, to video cameras and special communications equipment.  Everything is measured and all communications wireless.  There are also drivers in the vehicles to not only steer, but to be able to take over the system at anytime.  The drivers are steering but the computer systems are braking and accelerating.

Cindy, our professional truck driver

After some questions from Mayor TJ Cawley and I, we took off.  As we were driving about 60 mph down 540 (more on that later), an “interloper” (an SUV with an Volvo employee inside) breaks into the platoon formation, crossing into our lane between the first and 2nd truck.  We watch as the first two vehicles break out of their platoon, but the second two vehicles stay in formation, slow down automatically and keep their distance (gap) between the vehicles to then form their own platoon. When the “interloper” leaves the lane, the trucks automatically return to the formation of the three truck platoon, with the lead truck resuming as front vehicle and the others accelerating to match speed.  All automatic.  Our driver never stepped on the brake or accelerator.  SO COOL!

Why Platooning and Why Here

The 18 mile stretch of NC 540 from the exit at Veridea Parkway north to Cary is one of just 10 locations in the US that the US Department of Transportation has designated for demonstrating advanced vehicle technologies. The Turnpike Authority is also heavily involved, and this research and activity is heavily monitored by all parties.  And yes, because they are on the Turnpike, they are paying tolls, just like the rest of us.

Fedex is a partner of Volvo for this technology initiative –and they certainly have a vested interest. With over 60,000 vehicles delivering over 8M global packages daily, their goal is to improve safety, reduce traffic congestion and save money.

Fedex has said that drag accounts for up to 25% of a vehicles energy consumption – and the numbers I heard were energy savings of 4-10% in gas savings equating to millions of dollars.  The closer the trucks, the more trucks in the platoon, the higher the savings.  The goal of safety is still first and paramount.

Also, Volvo’s North American headquarters is in Greensboro and the proximity of this testing location is great for them as well.

The Volvo Team


Safety first

These tests are only being run when the conditions on the road are safe.  In fact, drivers (including us) aren’t supposed to be using cruise control or other technology measures when it’s raining or there are pools of water on the road. Our trained and professional driver, Cindy shared her excitement about the promise of this technology and the ability to improve the safety of the vehicles.

Overall, it was a really great experience.  I learned so much about the technology, the promise of improved safety and the passion of all the folks involved. And, who doesn’t love to ride in an 18-wheeler?

All the Platoon Riders from across the Triangle

Leaving a Legacy in Cary

Have you ever wanted to memorialize or honor a loved one or commemorate an event in a unique and distinctive way?

Cary has a program to help you do that!

Our Legacy Program allows our community members to mark an occasion or honor an individual in the Town, with the placement towards a tree or bench in the location of your choice. Also included is a personalized plaque on the bench or at the tree location. This unique program provides a long-lasting gift that will continue to not only benefit the community for years to come, but a way to honor that individual or event.

This program was an idea from a Cary citizen, approved in 2016, with the program finalized and launched in 2017. We’ve had some wonderful installations!

Read More…

Our Smart City Journey

Cary has been in the news quite a bit lately about our Smart Cities initiatives.  It’s great to see how forward thinking our Town has been as we find new and exciting ways to cost-effectively deliver new services, streamline current capabilities, and improve our quality of life. I blogged about this last year – and at the time, we were at the beginning of our journey.  So, how far have we come?

Smart Cities Recap

Why do we want to be looking at “smart city” capabilities?

Because the opportunity of utilizing smart technologies and data analysis is that it allows us to optimize our town functions while also driving economic growth. And all of this is with the goal of improving the quality of life for our citizens.

Last year, Cary took on this idea full steam, creating a simulated Smart City Campus, partnering with vendors, local universities, our Town volunteer boards and smart city organizations to help us as we moved forward.  Throughout all of these efforts, Cary garnered a few awards:

Read More…

Be Ready in Cary

It’s been hurricane season here in North Carolina for awhile now – so preparing might have already been on your to do list. But sometimes, it takes a big storm to bring the value of being prepared to the forefront.

As we all watched the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey – our hearts, hands and wallets opened up to assist.

Now, we see one potentially headed our way – and it’s time to make sure that we are ready, as well. Please take a few moments and do the following – while we wait for Hurricane Irma to decide her path.  Read More…

Cary is a Smart City

We’re in a Triangle of Smart Cities

I was honored to be asked to join Mayor Nancy McFarlane (Raleigh), Mayor Pam Hemminger (Chapel Hill) and City Manager Tom Bonfield (Durham) for a panel at the Triangle Smart Cities Summit last month.

A View from the City

The “View from the City” panel was moderated by Governor Martin O’Malley, and we bounced a number of questions, ideas,  and visions around the table regarding our take on “what IS a Smart City” and how we get there.  If you want, you can watch the WHOLE thing below.  What was apparent was that each of our municipalities is working hard to leverage technology to improve the lives of our residents – by tapping into the intellectual capital at our respective universities, engaging citizens and working across our city and town boundaries to find regional solutions and best practices.  I highlighted a number of our wins – like Aquastar, that I’ve blogged about before – and new things on the horizon. Read More…

Let’s go ride a Bike

“I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike.”
See if you can get that earworm outta your head NOW.

I’ll wait…

It’s National Bicycle Month – what does that actually mean, and why should you care?

I’m glad you asked.

Because this month there are so many ways for you to not only get out and see Cary and our community on your bike, but you will also notice that lots of folks are already doing so – and we all want to be safe out there.


My Bike History  (a short tale, like me)

I’m kinda a bike nerd.  I didn’t start that way. I took easy rides with the family and enjoyed just getting out there with the kids.

My family – many years ago

Then, I had this friend, Wayne, who first got me on a road bike.  (Let’s all blame him. OK?)  I started taking my hybrid on the road, but I found it so very heavy to do longer rides.  I moved up to a road bike, so much lighter and easier to maneuver.  But I was scared – mostly about all the spandex that folks wear, but also about the vulnerability of being on the road, next to vehicles that could easily bump or hit me.  I know that I’m no threat to a car – but I also know how easily it is to be distracted as a driver, and miss seeing a cyclist. It’s something I think about all the time when I’m on the road.   Read More…

A Garden for Wildlife in Cary

Cary and it’s citizens have always been commited to the environment – and now we have proof. Certifiable proof.

Oh, wait – I have to explain.

About 2 years ago members of the Environmental Advisory Board brought forward a great idea – to work with residents, businesses and organizations throughout the Town to create wildlife habitats in their yards and gardens, at schools, public spaces, and places of worship.

The goal – to give people a way to connect to their natural world, whether through enticing birds, butterflies or bees, or other wildlife – right where they are.

The Garden for Wildlife program sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is about blooming these possibilities across the community – providing tools, guidance and a way to certify participation of your garden space.  Making a sustainable habitat is relatively easy and a way for us all to reverse some of the human-caused habitat destruction that has hurt wildlife.  Whether you have rain barrels, compost, used native plants in your garden or yard, or hung bird feeders or installed bird baths– you are doing your part to help.

Cary Did It!

Last night several community members from various organizations that participated in the program, including the members of the EAB, Mayor Pro Tem Ed Yerha, a number of Staff members were joined by a Patrick Fitzgerald, The National Wildlife Federation’s Senior Director of Community Wildlife from Washington DC and Liz Rutledge from the NC Wildlife Federation, to present Cary with a Certificate recognizing Cary as a Community Wildlife Habitat.

This is quite a milestone in our history! For Cary to earn this standing over 400 homes, 5 schools and 3 common areas (like churches) in Cary were individually certified as wildlife habitats.

We are now the 101st community to be recognized across the country – and the FIRST in the TRIANGLE to have this designation!

Ed and I with Patrick & Liz from NWF

Read More…

Miss Representation – Free Women’s History Month Movie

March has traditionally been the time when I write about “Women’s History” – our struggle for the vote and women’s suffrage, or our lack of representation in government or lacking a seat at the table of our private sector companies. It makes sense to do this, given it’s Women’s History Month.

And yes, I’ve written about this before –  and you can read my previous blog posts here, and here.)

Suffragettes (Library of Congress)

But this year, I’ve really felt that the Women’s Movement is shifting.  From the Women’s March to #InternationalWomensDay – women are standing up and being counted.  We’ve marched, written songs, run for office, and made our voices heard.  You might not agree with all that’s going on, but I have to give credit to all of the women that are no longer sitting back and watching from afar.  We have some amazingly powerful women in this area – whether they are on boards or commissions as volunteers, in elected roles, at the board table or the PTA – they help to make our towns, cities and counties the best that they can be.  Read More…

Cary’s Jewish Cultural Festival Remarks

I was honored to give the opening remarks for the Jewish Cultural Festival this morning.

With all that is going on in the world today – I didn’t think I could do the standard “Welcome to Cary” remarks.  Here’s what I said.


Hello and Good Afternoon.

I’m Cary At-Large Representative Lori Bush, and I’m honored to join you on behalf of our Town Council and the 160,000 people who call Cary home. Welcome to our beautiful downtown and our Jewish Cultural Festival!

Thank you for inviting me to be with you today, and a big thank you to the Chabad of Cary, Beth Shalom, the Raleigh-Cary Jewish Community Center, and the Jewish Federation of Raleigh-Cary for your collaboration. As a Cary resident and particularly as a Jew, I feel so lucky to have you all right here in our area.

One of the amazing things about this Jewish Cultural Festival is how it has morphed and changed over the years — what started as a way to celebrate Chanukah with all of the festivities around that holiday – like the lighting of the menorah, eating latkes and spinning dreidels  – to last year’s Purim Celebration – with Hamentashen and costumes—– and now, a recognition of Passover – we have, TOGETHER, taken a journey through some of our unique traditions, celebrations and ceremonies.  We join together, as a community to celebrate our history and our past, and most importantly –  we embrace others who join us – whether this is their first time at our festival, or you’ve attended others before – we actively welcome and invite people of all faiths and ethnicities to this and ALL of our cultural festivals in Cary.  Read More…

Which Waze?

When was the last time you looked at a paper map to get somewhere?  A long time ago, I know.  I remember ordering the AAA TripTiks not so long ago – plotting the route we would take while on the road to a vacation. Ok, so now I feel old.

I also remember when I got my first navigational system, a Garmin box that had a suction cup to attach to the windshield.  That device was life changing – I found new ways to get around the town, and I distinctly remember feeling like this new technology was finally addressing my navigationally-challenged self.

How did this happen?

What you might not know is that these systems, along with Google Maps and Waze, built-in car navigational systems and other mapping applications on your phone – are some of the first commercial implementations of Open DataYep, it’s true.  (And yes, I’ve written about Open Data before.)

The data used for these systems is GPS – Global Positioning System data.   Read More…

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