Self-driving vehicles are on their way; but while attention is usually focused on autonomous cars, such as Google’s upcoming effort, the technology will also make its way into other modes of transport, such as trucks.
According to the UK’s Department for Transport, the country will “lead the way” in testing these automated “HGV platoons” later this year. The Times reports that UK Chancellor George Osborne is expected to confirm funding for the project in his upcoming budget speech.
The conveys will consist of ten trucks driving in tandem, with only a few feet between each one. This method will allow the vehicles to drive in the front truck’s slipstream, a technique called ‘drafting,’ which significantly reduces drag and can improve fuel consumption by around 15 percent.
Each ‘platoon’ will be lead by a truck carrying a human driver, who will monitor followers using laser sensors and infrared cameras. The other vehicles will navigate using a “highway pilot,” that uses cameras and radar to drive autonomously. It’s hoped that the entire convoy will eventually become fully autonomous - no human drivers required.
Drivers’ associations have already criticized the plans, claiming that the convoys may cause serious problems for other road users. “It’s a complicated one and road users will naturally have concerns about it,” said Paul Watters, head of transport policy at the Automobile Association (AA). “If the lorries are following each other closely, it might be hard to spot the road signs.”
Reports state that the tests will take place on a quieter section of the UK’s road network, one where the lead driver won’t have to navigate numerous junctions. Other have pointed out, however, that as the UK’s major roads have more entrances and exits “than any other motorways in Europe or indeed the world,” this ‘road train’ may encounter problems.
Daimler has already tested its self-driving trucks (pictured) in Germany, and it looks as if its vehicles will be used in the UK trials. The company has also been given permission to test the trucks on US roads.
Image credit: Daimler AG