BRITAIN will begin testing convoys of self-driving lorries on public roads late next year, more than two years after similar tests were carried out across Europe.
The trucks will be wirelessly linked, allowing them to synchronise braking and accelerating, in a technique known as “platooning”. A human driver in the front vehicle controls the braking and acceleration of all the lorries in the convoy.
Because of the synchronised braking, the lorries can drive much closer together than would be safe with human drivers, significantly reducing wind resistance and thereby lowering fuel consumption in a formation known as a “road train”.
“Advances such as lorry platooning could benefit businesses through cheaper fuel bills, and other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion,” said Paul Maynard, transport minister. “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.”
The government has been promising self-driving lorry tests since 2014. A Europe-wide trial, involving six major lorry manufacturers, in 2016 saw convoys of trucks travelling across the continent to test the technology. Driverless convoys have also already been tested in the US and Japan.
Last year, former chancellor George Osborne promised that testing self-driving lorries on UK roads would “put Britain in the fast lane”.
The UK government sent out tenders in April last year, but the truckmakers, who had just finished trialling the technology in the pan-European project, were reluctant to sign up. Several major players said they had no need to try out the technology on British roads and were focused on further testing in their home markets.
Now, the UK government has given £8.1m to Transport Research Laboratory to run the tests, using Dutch lorry maker DAF Trucks, German delivery group DHL and UK technology company Ricardo.