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Giant tractor-trailers may be coming soon to interstates

Two giant tractor-trailer trucks, both traveling at freeway speed, one right behind the other, just 20 feet separating the two: Recipe for disaster? Or for improved safety and better fuel economy?

Its the latter, claims Joshua Switkes, CEO of Peloton Technology, a Silicon Valley company whose technology makes possible such platooning of tractor-trailers.

Switkes tells ABC News the term describes a communications and data link between big rigs that allows them to synchronize braking and acceleration, so that the two can enter into a kind of symbiosis.

The proximity of the two trucks reduces wind resistance, resulting in what Switkes says is a 4.5 percent fuel savings for the lead truck and a 10 percent savings for the rear.

A central operations center at Pelotons HQ takes in data from sensors on the two trucks. It also crunches data on weather, highway conditions and other variables, to determine when its safe for trucks to platoon, what their speed should be, and how much distance should be maintained between them. Tested distances have ranged from 20 feet to 75 feet. The trucks drivers can elect to exit their linked relationship instantly, at any time. They remain in full control of the trucks steering.

Asked to compare Pelotons system to the one behind Googles driverless cars, Switkes says: Theres some overlap. Some of the sensing is similar, some of the computing. But ours is all about augmenting the ability of the driver by making them safer and more efficient. Googles car, by contrast, has its driver do nothing at all.

Switkes obviously has a vested interest in promoting platooning. But recent tests of Pelotons system--overseen by law enforcement, highway safety experts and a leading trucking organizationappear to confirm some of his claims.

Peloton two weeks ago demonstrated platooning for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, the Nevada Department of Public Safety, and the Nevada Department of Transportation. The event took place on a stretch of Interstate 80 east of Renoa major conduit for cross-country freight. Two trucks were run 40 feet apart.

Nevada Highway Patrol Chief Dennis Osborne, in a press conference after the demonstration, said the #1 mission of his office was to reduce the number and severity of crashes on Nevadas highways. He said he initially was concerned by Pelotons concept. But after seeing the demo and reviewing the technical data, he said, I feel safe about this project.

Officials from the other agencies also responded positively.

The normal reaction time for the driver of a vehicle, Osborne said, is 1 to 2 seconds, depending on weather conditions, the drivers age, and other variables. The reaction time of the Peloton system is greatly faster: We are talking fractions of a second, here, from the time the lead vehicle begins to brake. He called this reduced reaction time an awesome selling-point. The Highway Patrol, he said, will continue to watch this with a lot of interest.