While manufacturers, rule-makers and everyday drivers continue to wrestle with the implications of the self-driving car, the same technology applied to commercial trucking has received less attention. That may change when the first convoys of autonomous semi-trailers appear on UK highways next year.
Britain’s Transport Research Laboratory plans to begin testing what will in fact be only semi-autonomous “self-driving lorry platoons” on public highways before the end of 2018, North American Energy News reports.
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The test convoys will wirelessly link one lead truck with a human driver to others following it, the Texas-based news outlet writes. “Trucks travelling behind the pilot vehicle will copy all the actions of the lead driver. For example, should the driver hit the brakes, the entire fleet will slow down at the same time.”
Because the robotic following “drivers” will respond faster than humans, the entire convoy will be able to travel more closely together than would otherwise be safe, said Richard Cuerden, the laboratory’s academic director. That will reduce wind resistance and should cut the convoy’s total carbon emissions for any given route by as much as 10%, he added. “It’s a major thing for the environment.”
Although the specially-built trucks will initially be tested on a track, “we’re going to build a system that’s robust enough to work in the real world,” Cuerden asserted. “When we get to the end, we’ll have run a trial with a real operator, real goods, on real UK roads.”
The project is Britain’s response to the European Truck Platooning Challenge, which earlier saw Volvo and Daimler pilot autonomous trucks across four European borders.
While there’s no immediate expectation that self-driving cars or trucks will be rushing onto Canadian thoroughfares, they’re already being eyed for tar sands/oil sands mines.