UK to begin testing of self-driving truck platoons

truck platoons
Last year, as part of the European Truck Platooning challenge, Scania piloted a truck platoon across 2,000 kilometres and four borders. Scania photo.

Truck platoons tests begin on UK public roads in 2018

In 2018, the British government will begin testing self-driving lorry platoons on public roads in the UK. The lineup of wirelessly linked trucks will be shepherded on UK motorways by a lead vehicle driven by a human.

“We’re going to build a system that’s robust enough to work in the real world,” Richard Cuerden, academy director at the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) told Wired. “When we get to the end of our project, we’ll have run a trial with a real operator, real goods and on real UK roads.”

Energy EastThe large trucks travelling behind the pilot vehicle will copy all the actions of the lead driver.  For example, should the driver hit the brakes, the entire fleet will slow down at the same time.  When the trucks are in platooning mode, all of them, except the lead vehicle are self-driving.

“They’re always able to talk with one another,” according to Cuerden. “Because the robot driving trucks two and three can react so much quicker than you and I can we can get them so much closer together”.

The automated convoy is expected to help cut a large vehicle’s carbon dioxide emissions by 10 per cent. The vehicles can travel closer than they normally would if driven by humans, which should significantly reduce wind resistance and lower fuel consumption.

“It’s a major thing for the environment,” says Cuerden.

Testing of the automated lorries, all of which will be built by British engineering firm Ricardo, will occur in the UK will be in three stages.  The lorries will be initially be run on a test track on platooning mode, simulating the trucks moving together and will culminate on tests on real roads.

So far, the area of the UK where the real-road testing will occur has not been decided, but TRL says the testing will take place on a motorway or other major road.

Earlier this year, Scania announced it will begin the “first full-scale autonomous platooning operation” in Singapore.  The platoon is designed to move containers between port terminals and the city state.

In April 2016, as part of the European Truck Platooning Challenge, Volvo and Daimler piloted a fleet of autonomous trucks across 2,000 km and four borders in Europe.

“We are investing in technology that will improve people’s lives. Advances such as lorry platooning could benefit businesses through cheaper fuel bills and other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion,” said UK Transport Minister Paul Maynard.

“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 on-road trials will form part of regular DHL logistical operations and are expected to take place in 2018, following the successful completion of a rigorous programme of driving simulations, driver training and test track trials over the coming months.

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