Aug 25, 2017
Self-driving lorries to be tested in UK next year
Driver in front vehicle will control braking and acceleration of convoy.
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.
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 research from test tracks 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 would only begin when there was robust evidence that it could be done safely, said TRL.
However, some motoring groups questioned the usefulness of the technology.
Edmund King, president of the AA, said: "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."
Steve Gooding from the RAC Foundation said: "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."