Convoys of self-driving lorries will hit UK roads by the end of next year, the Department for Transport (DfT) and Highways England have announced. Engineering innovation centre TRL (Transport Research Laboratory) has been awarded a contract by the Government to carry out tests of HGV ‘platoons’. These platoon trials will see trucks (wirelessly connected in batches of three) travel in formation, with acceleration and braking controlled by the front vehicle. All of the lorries in the convoy will remain manned in case a driver needs to take control.
If the trials are successful, the technology could entail major benefits for motorists and businesses in the UK. For example, as autonomous vehicles have more intelligent control over speeds than humans, HGVs could benefit from aerodynamics and reduce congestion (as pioneering research from the University of Illinois suggests).
Transport Minister Paul Maynard said: “Advances such as lorry platooning could benefit businesses through cheaper fuel bills and other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion.” Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England Chief Executive, said: “The trial has the potential to demonstrate how greater automation of vehicles – in this instance, HGVs – can deliver improvements in safety, better journeys for road users and reduction in vehicle emissions.”
Academy Director at TRL Richard Cuerden said: “Platooning technology has the potential to deliver a wide range of benefits to all road users. As well as supporting the Department for Transport and Highways England in informing future infrastructure investments and policy decisions, the trials will highlight the services that platooning may offer road users and whether these can safely contribute to a reduction in vehicle emissions, improved journeys and greater economic prosperity.”
The TRL’s project has been backed by £8.1 million in Government funding. In a new report issued by TRL and truck R&D firm Ricardo, both companies conclude that the tech allowing self driving lorries (such as vehicle to vehicle communication) does exist, but can only be implemented following live tests on roads. The trials, now supported by logistics leader DHL, will form a part of the firm’s regular operations.
Chief Executive of TRL Rob Wallis, added: “TRL and its consortium of leading international partners, have the practical and technical knowledge gained from previous projects to understand what is required to put a connected vehicle platoon on to UK roads safely. The team are now taking that expertise and uniquely applying it within live traffic operations.”