Trials of partially self-driving lorries will take place on UK roads next year.
The £8.1m project will involve small convoys of lorries driving in ‘platoons’, with two or more vehicles connected through vehicle-to-vehicle communication. This allows them to communicate with each other and operate as a single unit.
According to the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), which has been commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT) and Highways England to lead the project, the lead vehicle takes control of the speed and direction of all the vehicles in the platoon. When the lead vehicle brakes, the following vehicles automatically brake with zero reaction time – significantly increasing road safety.
What’s more, driving at a constant controlled speed delivers fuel savings and reduced CO2 emissions, and the ability to decrease the distance between vehicles increases road network capacity.
The project represents the first real-world operational trial of platooning vehicles on UK roads.
TRL will lead a consortium of partners including DAF Trucks, engineering consultancy Ricardo and logistics group DHL. The trials are planned to form part of DHL’s regular operations.
Rob Wallis, TRL Chief Executive, said: “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.”
Jim O’Sullivan, Chief Executive of Highways England, added: “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. Investing in this research shows we care about those using our roads, the economy and the environment, and safety will be integral as we take forward this work with TRL.”
On-road trials are expected to take place in 2018, following driving simulations, driver training and test track trials over the coming months.