Britain Joins List of Countries Testing Autonomous Trucks
A wide array of companies are competing to dominate the future of autonomous cars, from Silicon Valley giants like Apple and Google, to traditional carmakers like BMW and Ford. A sector that is getting somewhat less attention? Driverless trucks.
But that is changing. Britain on Friday joined a growing list of countries and companies financing research into automating haulage, announcing a trial of self-driving trucks that will see real-world tests next year.
The research will involve “platooning” technology where small convoys of trucks move in concert, like cyclists in a peloton, along the country’s roads. It is one of several tests of autonomous trucks around the world. Scania, a unit of the German carmaker Volkswagen, said in January it would test platooning technology in Singapore, while the Netherlands has promoted research into it as well, by running a challenge where driverless trucks from across Europe traversed the continent.
In the British trial, up to three vehicles will travel in a convoy, each with a driver who can take control if required. The first truck in the platoon, however, will control the acceleration and braking of all three, using technology to optimize the latter trucks’ trailing distance to reduce drag, helping cut fuel consumption and vehicle emissions. The trucks will likely be as little as one or two seconds apart, easing road congestion as well.
The 8.1 million pound, or $10.4 million, project will be carried out by a consortium of companies, including Transport Research Laboratory, a British research firm, and DHL, the delivery and logistics company.
Several companies are trying to develop driverless technology for trucks, seeing it as a surer bet than autonomous car research. Because trucking firms spend vast sums on their vehicles - typically multiple times the cost of an average car - developers believe they may be more willing to commit extra money to fit their trucks with driverless technology to improve efficiency and safety.
The upsides are considerable. Three quarters of all goods transported in Britain are moved by road, according to the country’s department for transport. And while heavy goods vehicles represent 5 percent of all traffic here, they account for nearly a fifth of the greenhouse gas emissions from road transport.
There are safety concerns, though. Britain’s highways are among Europe’s most congested, according to the Automobile Association, a company that monitors traffic safety here.
“Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada,” said Edmund King, the president of the A.A., “but this is not America.”
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