‘Platoons’ of driverless lorries will be trialled on Britain’s motorways, George Osborne confirmed in his 2016 Budget speech (16 March).
First reported earlier this month, the chancellor announced the funding for the trial as part of wider plans to improve the fuel efficiency of long-haul journeys.
Earlier this month Sky News said the trials would see ‘platoons’ of up to 10 driverless lorries travelling just ‘metres’ apart with a driver in the lead vehicle to control the steering, acceleration and braking of the convoy. Each vehicle will have a driver in the cab as a safety measure, who would regain control in the case of an emergency.
In 2011, the SARTRE project carried out the first demonstration of ‘platoon’ technology, while in Germany last year a driverless lorry developed by Daimler (pictured) was successfully tested on a public road for the first time.
In terms of location for the UK trail, the Telegraph reports that a stretch of the M6 near Carlisle has been earmarked as a potential test route, with the Daily Mail adding that the trial will start later this year.
In announcing the trials, the Government said it wanted the UK to be "a global centre for excellence in connected and autonomous vehicles".
Last month, it announced a further £20m of investment into the technology while transport minister Andrew Jones backed the opening of TRL’s ‘Living Lab’, designed to test autonomous vehicle technology.
It was also revealed in December 2015 that the Internet giant Google had held five meetings with the DfT in the last two years to discuss introducing driverless cars to the UK.
However, the announcement has received a lukewarm reception from Edmund King, president of the AA, who told BBC News he was doubtful the scheme was right for the UK.
Edmund King said: “The problem with the UK motorway network is that we have more entrances and exits than any other motorways in Europe or indeed the world, and 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 RAC was a little more encouraging, welcoming the initiative ‘in principle’.
David Bizley, RAC chief engineer, said: “There are a number of significant benefits that are being forecast as a result of the introduction of driverless lorries, such as an average fuel reduction of around 10% and improved motorway capacity. It should also add to safety on the roads as there’s less opportunity for human error.
“But one of the main questions is really whether lorry platoons are appropriate for our motorway network, which is why the choice of the M6 in Cumbria for the trials is a good one because the junctions are few and far between and the traffic density is low compared with most stretches of motorway.
“So while this is a potentially welcome extension to the driverless technology we are seeing trialled in cars, it’s not clear yet whether it is something that would work in practice on the UK’s motorway network.”
Photo via Daimler