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Autonomous Truck Platoons to debut in Britain

The UK government has announced it will start trials of partially autonomous trucks on British public roads by 2018.

The lorries will test a technique called “platooning”, in which driverless vehicles trail a manned “lead truck”, following its cues to accelerate, brake and turn. That is achieved by allowing trucks to “talk” through a local wi-fi network.

It is understood that, during the UK test, platoons will comprise no more than three vehicles, and that each truck will have a driver ready to take the wheel if needed.

Some believe that “platooning” has the potential to reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions—that is because the lead truck would break the air’s resistance, allowing the vehicles behind to burn less fuel.

The government will sponsor the programme with £8.1 million in funding, as the Department for Transport has thrown its weight behind the effort. “We are investing in technology that will improve people’s lives,” Transport Secretary Paul Maynard said in a statement. “Advances such as lorry platooning could benefit businesses through cheaper fuel bills and other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion. But first we must make sure the technology is safe and works well on our roads, and that’s why we are investing in these trials.”

While the locations for the trials have not been disclosed yet, it is understood that they will go through three stages: testing the trucks in convoy formation on a closed track, simulating the vehicles platooning, and finally trialling them on-road.

The  project will be carried out by independent (formerly  public) transport consultancy Transport Research Laboratory, which has teamed up with Dutch truck-maker DAF, British tech company Ricardo, and German logistics giant DHL.

While “platooning” for driverless or semi-autonomous trucks is gaining popularity in the US, Germany and Japan, some have questioned its usefulness in the UK.

“We are not yet convinced that lorry platooning on UK motorways is the way to go about it. We have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more exits and entries,” Edmund King, president of UK motoring organisation AA told the BBC. “Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America,” he added.

Image via screenshot/Youtube


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