Driverless trucks will be tested on UK motorways from 2017, the government has confirmed.
In his latest budget, chancellor George Osborne announced that driverless cars would be trialled on a “strategic road network” as soon as next year.
The Budget document released alongside George Osborne’s statement last week stated that the government would “consult on sweeping away regulatory barriers within this parliament to enable autonomous vehicles on England’s major roads” over the coming months.
According to the Department for Transport the U.K. will “lead the way” in testing driverless heavy good vehicles, with the first self-driving trucks expected to hit roads later this year for a trial that hopes to speed up deliveries and cut congestion, whilst also examining their effect on reducing accidents and improving traffic flow.
The ‘driverless’ technology used in these vehicles allows them to move in a group of up to ten, with just meters in between each one. By travelling closely like this, the trucks will consume less fuel.
The tests are set to be conducted on a “quiet stretch” of the M6 motorway in Cumbria, according to BBC News. Each vehicle will be powered by a “highway pilot” that ensures they avoid other road users using a radar and camera sensing system.
They will also have a human driver on-board that will be able to take control of the truck if necessary.
“New technology has the potential to bring major improvements to journeys and the UK is in a unique position to lead the way for the testing of connected and driverless vehicles,” said a Department for Transport spokesman.
Numerous manufacturers have expressed an interest and Daimler, Daf, Iveco, MAN, Scania and Volvo have indicated they are involved in developing platoon systems.
Daimler is testing autonomous vehicles in Nevada and Germany, and Daf marketing manager Phil Moon has said that the company has already conducted a trial in the Netherlands and would be interested in joining the UK platooning trial. “HGV platooning could become a reality within the next five years. The trial sends an important signal that the UK government has seen the benefits of this technology and is encouraging us to think of this as a possibility in the future,” he said according to sources.
Scania, which has run trials in Sweden, also expressed interest in the trial. A spokesman said: “We’ve been involved in platooning for sometime. We have developed the technology and so I am sure we will be interested in the UK trial.”
Notwithstanding, others are skeptical the technology will work in the UK.
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett questioned whether driverless trucks were appropriate or necessary on UK roads, “Is platooning practical for hauliers? Does it make operational sense and will it be safe practice on UK roads with so many junctions?” he asked.
However, Tim Slater, MD at DHL Supply Chain said, “It’s important that the government invests in self-driving technology, which benefits us all. Stretching the boundaries of technological innovation is crucial to keeping Britain competitive.”
For more in-depth analysis on how driverless trucks and platooning may affect the haulage industry visit Truck Locator.