Self-driving trucks which can operate effectively in close convoy with one another, otherwise known as ‘platooning’, will soon be seen on British roads after the Department for Transport gave the go-ahead to a trial of the technology, according to UK Haulier.
The initial test is expected to cost around £8.1 million and will involve the cooperation of DAF Trucks, which is currently the biggest selling manufacturer of HGVs in the country.
Platooning trials have already been carried out in other parts of Europe, but this scheme will be the first time that the technology has made its way to the UK. The government commissioned analysis on the viability of platooning three years ago and now it seems that politicians and regulators have been convinced that it is worth pursuing thanks to the evidence they were presented with.
It is necessary to run these small scale projects to put platooning tech through its paces, because the UK has different road and traffic conditions to some of the other nations in which earlier trials have taken place. DAF will be collaborating with logistics firm DHL and project organiser TRL to make the necessary adjustments and ensure that a favourable outcome is achieved.
Spokesperson Rob Wallis said that Britain could become a global leader in the adopting of autonomous transport, specifically in the field of platooning which involves trucks which not only drive themselves, but connect and communicate with one another to act as a single unit.
He said that the consortium of companies which are joining forces to complete this trial are already very experienced in their individual fields, meaning that they are well placed to translate the theory of platooning into the practical, dynamic environment of public roads.
The goal is not just to use autonomous trucks to save time and money for transport firms, but also to improve the overall experience for road users across the country. If trucks become more efficient and less obstructive, able to respond to changing conditions in fractions of a second, then all journeys should become easier and the quality of air should also improve as emissions are reduced.
Minister for Transport Paul Maynard pointed out that the potential benefits of this technology would help to stimulate the economy and minimise congestion, although he also said that ensuring the safety and sustainability of platooning was essential before embracing it wholesale, hence the need for the trial.
When multiple trucks are connected wirelessly to one another and operating autonomously, they can not only act in unison to avoid hazards, but also maintain a constant speed and use their close proximity to reduce drag and thus optimise fuel efficiency. As emissions regulations become tighter and the price of diesel rises, all of these advantages will become increasingly relevant.
The viability of platooning has already been proven on the continent and in North America, so this UK trial is just the latest step in convincing governments and regulators around the globe that it should be harnessed.