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Driverless trucks to be tested on UK roads soon

HGVs travelling in convoy allow for air drag to be reduced

PHOTO: Truck manufacturer Daimler piloted an automated truck in Germany last October. Credit: Daimler

Driverless trucks will soon be put to test in the UK, with the Department of Transport saying the country will “lead the way” in testing heavy vehicle platoons, it was reported.

Platooning technology enables heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) to automatically travel close together in a convoy or platoon, allowing for air drag to be reduced. This is achieved by electronic coupling, and leads to lower fuel consumption and exhaust emissions, while potentially decreasing congestion and allowing roads to be used more efficiently.

According to a report in The Times, the driverless truck trials will take place on the M6 motorway in Cumbria later this year. Vehicles in the convoy will be headed by a driver in the leading truck, and the tests will take place on a quiet stretch of the motorway, it was reported.

The plans could result in platoons of up to 10 computer-controlled trucks being driven metres apart from each other.

Some experts have expressed scepticism about the success of platooning in the UK. Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association (AA) said that while such a scheme might work in other countries, he was doubtful that it was suitable for the UK.

“The problem with the UK motorway network is that we have more entrances and exits of our motorways than any other motorways in Europe or indeed the world,” King said, quoted by the BBC. “Therefore it’s very difficult to have a 44-tonne 10-lorry platoon, because other vehicles need to get past the platoon to enter or exit the road.”

The “only feasible place” to conduct such a trial would be the M6, north of Preston towards Scotland, he said. This is because it “tends to have less traffic and there are slightly fewer entrances and exits.”

Truck manufacturers have been looking into the viability of driverless vehicles, with Daimler piloting an automated truck in Germany last October. Meanwhile, others like Scania and Volvo have been researching truck platoons.

“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,” a Department for Transport spokesman said, quoted by the BBC.

“We are planning trials of HGV platoons – which enable vehicles to move in a group so they use less fuel – and will be in a position to say more in due course.”

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