Saving more fuel … via GPS

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Swedish truck maker Scania is preparing to roll out a new global positioning system (GPS) linked cruise control system for its Central and Western European customers in early 2012 -- one that will enable trucks to “see” the road ahead when in cruise control mode and thus automatically modulate speed with greater efficiency, thus boosting fuel economy by up to 3%, in Scania’s estimation.

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GPS, as well all know, is a satellite-based navigation system, consisting of a network of 24 orbiting satellites eleven thousand nautical miles in space.

These satellites provide detailed electronic “maps” that motorists and truckers alike are using with greater frequency to fulfill location-finding and route-planning needs, instead of thumbing through dog-eared paper maps (the method I still prefer, though, to be completely honest).

However, Scania is taking GPS to a whole new level in combination with its cruise control technology. Dubbed Scania Active Prediction, the system is touted as being “intuitive” with the ability to adapt a truck’s operating style to the road’s topography – “looking ahead” some 3 kilometers or 1.86 miles ahead of the vehicle at all times.

Scania added that its GPS-linked cruise control package should also help experienced drivers save fuel when driving on new routes, in the dark or under adverse weather conditions.

[Watch the video below for a nice summation about how the Scania Active Predication system works.]

Scania said the system should work with minimal hiccups because there’s enough topographic map data available today for around 95% of the road network in Central and Western Europe to make it effective. Obviously, such data is the critical linchpin for making GPS-enabled cruise control work, so if it’s lacking, such a system might not deliver the expected savings

So, while we’re at it, let’s examine the potential fuel savings offered by this technology. Scania said that based on a 40-tonne truck combination (what we call a "tractor-trailer" on this side of the pond) running 180,000 km (about 111,847 miles) per year, a fuel savings of 3% would cut diesel consumption by about 1,700 litres (some 449.09 gallons) per year and reduce carbon emissions by four tonnes.

[Of course, it takes engines properly “tuned” to a truck’s expected duty cycle to deliver the fuel savings expected from such technology – something Scania is well aware of as it continues to figure out ways to get more horsepower out of its engine designs while maintaining emission compliance and reducing maintenance complexity.]

If you figure diesel costs $4 a gallon stateside, then this GPS-linked cruise technology – if it were available over here – would save a U.S. fleet $1,796.36 annually; if, of course, the technology performed consistently, as advertised.

Scania took pains to point out that this system will deliver maximum benefits on what it refers to as “undulating routes,” where the roads are never entirely flat. Thus, for a fleet running long miles out in the Western regions of the U.S. (the great state of Texas comes to mind here), such technology again might not deliver all the savings one would expect.

Still, this is a pretty neat use of technology – and if delivers the expected fuel savings, you might see similar systems start popping up in the U.S. pretty soon as well.

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