UK to test partially driverless trucking

The UK government has announced the approval of £8.1m of funding to trial ‘self-driving’ lorries.

The tests will involve up to three heavy goods vehicles travelling in convoy, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle. Accelerating, braking and steering of the platoon will be synchronised through wireless technology.

All lorries in the platoon will always have a driver ready to assume control at any time.

The government asserts that if successful, the technology would make trucking more efficient, lowering emissions, improving air quality, and cutting fuel costs.

The trial will be carried out in three phases, with the first focusing on the potential for platooning on the UK’s major roads. Initial test track based research will help decide details such as distance between vehicles and on which roads the tests could take place.

Trials are expected on major roads by the end of 2018. Each phase of the testing will only begin when there is robust evidence that it can be done safely.

Similar trials have already been successfully carried out in Europe and the United States.

However, a number of potential issues have been raised by industry stakeholders.

Edmund King, president of the AA, remarked: “We all want to promote fuel efficiency and reduce congestion but we are not yet convinced that lorry platooning on UK motorways is the way to go about it,” he said, pointing out, for example, that small convoys of lorries can block road signs from the view of other road users.

“Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America,” he added.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, stated: “Streams of close-running HGVs could provide financial savings on long-distance journeys, but on our heavily congested motorways – with stop-start traffic and vehicles jostling for position – the benefits are less certain.”

Looking further ahead, Transport Intelligence’s CEO, Professor John Manners-Bell, is optimistic about the long-term benefits of autonomous vehicles.

He commented: “These trials of autonomous trucks show that the UK government is taking a far-sighted view of the new technologies which will eventually transform the road haulage industry. They are part of a process which will eventually result in a safer, more efficient, less congested and less polluted highways network and should be welcomed wholeheartedly.”

Source: Transport Intelligence