Self-Driving 25 Tonne Trucks to be Tested on UK Roads

For the first time self-driving trucks are to be tested on UK highways with the goal of getting them on the roads within the next two to three years. 

A new pilot, part of a trial by Highways England, will see self-driving trucks, capable of moving massive amounts of earth, take to the A14 between Cambridge and Huntington. Capable of moving 40 tonnes, the vehicles will be programmed remotely to take a pre-determined route along road work sites.

Like other self-driving vehicles, the trucks will be able to detect and avoid obstacles and will be able to work around the clock without human supervision. Once deployed, it is hoped that the self-driving trucks will help cut the amount of time it takes for roadwork improvements while reducing the risk of road workers being injured in road accidents.

Provided by contractor firm CA Blackwell, the truck is programmed to within 25mm on its route, so it cannot just “wander off” from its pre-determined path. Fitted with a GPS tracker, Wi-Fi receiver and laser light unit it is similar to ones already in use in Australia, some of which are already fully automated. The pilot will be similar to the tests done in Australia with autonomous vehicles, and is the first of its kind to be tried in Britain.

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Julian Lamb, the deputy project director for the A14 project at Highways England, said: “Road construction has changed massively over the years and the testing of trucks such as these promises to allow us to work efficiently, speeding up roadworks, giving more protection to road workers, and moving jobs to other skilled areas”.

£150,000 has been committed to the pilot by Highways England from its innovation fund. The pilot arrives as many companies are increasingly trying to produce a functional self-driving vehicle. According to the Brooking Institute, a US think-tank, close to $80 billion has been invested in this type of tech between 2014 and 2017. Waymo, Uber, and Jaguar are just some of the companies trying to develop their own autonomous vehicle tech offering.

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UK tech companies and the automotive industry have already invested £500 million into connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) R&D and testing. A report from Frost & Sullivan, a market research and analysis firm, estimates that continued investment could ultimately translate into a £62 billion annual economic opportunity for the country by 2030 and help to prevent 47,000 serious accidents over the next decade. The report also found that CAV has the greatest mass-market potential for the technology globally.

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