In a recent experiment involving four robo-trucks in Japan, the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization [NEDO] was able to realize a 15% increase in fuel efficiency. One way to increase fuel efficiency is to reduce drag, which is why design engineers put so much into smoothing out the lines on fuel efficient and sporty vehicles. Aerodynamics can be improved, not only on an individual vehicle basis, but also between vehicles, which is why ducks and geese fly in a “V” and NASCAR drivers draft each other.
Drafting on the highway is another way to reduce drag and increase your fuel efficiency, but we do not recommend you try this, because the risk of accident outweighs any fuel savings you might gain by riding in the eddies trailing off the vehicle in front of you. In Japan, though, where you can find the most advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, a series of four robo-trucks, that is, driverless and self-driving, can keep as close a distance as they care without putting human lives in danger.
One driver is in the lead truck, and all four trucks are equipped with cameras, radar, and high-speed wireless communication systems to coordinate their movements. The Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control system keeps the trucks at about 50mph and just 13ft apart. [At 50mph, the recommended safe distance is better than 220ft] The lead driver drives as normal, and the following trucks adapt their speed and direction following his lead. In this configuration, the tiny convoy was able to realize a 15% increase in fuel efficiency. NEDO says that even the lead driver may not be necessary in the future, and that a set of robo-trucks could be sent out to make deliveries safely and requiring less fuel, and no pit stops, that is, bio-breaks, but this might not make it until at least 2020.