Semi-Autonomous Trucks Set to hit British Roads in 2018

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【Summary】The UK Department of Transport and Highways has gathered roughly $10.5 million in funding, which will be sent to the Transport Research Laboratory to conduct simulation tests and driving training for semi-autonomous trucks.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Sep 01, 2017 9:15 AM PT
Semi-Autonomous Trucks Set to hit British Roads in 2018

Unlike the U.S. government that has been slow in getting involved with the rapidly approaching autonomous future, the British government has taken a more hands-on approach by laying out some ground rules, including new security guidelines, for driverless cars to follow. The British government is also attempting to get ahead of semi-autonomous trucks to help cut fuel costs and traffic. 

Autonomous Trucks Will Play "Follow The Leader"

In an announcement, the UK government announced that approximately $10.5 million in funding would be given to the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), an independent private company that offers transport consultations and research services, to conduct "platooning" trials. As Engadget reports, TRL will conduct studies in simulators and driver training first before taking its testing into the real world on a test track. If all goes well, the outlet reports that the semi-autonomous trucks will be on public roads by 2018. 

The trials, as the British government points out, will center around the process of platooning. The semi-autonomous trucks will travel in groups of up to three, with acceleration and braking being controlled by the lead truck. While the truck's semi-autonomous capabilities will allow them to follow the truck in front of them without any human intervention, human drivers will be behind the wheel at all times, ready to take control of the vehicle if needed. 

As Engadget reports, a human driver would drive the lead truck, while the following trucks would follow behind autonomously. The trucks would also come with wireless connections, allowing them to take to one another through vehicle-to-vehicle communication. With the tech, the trucks could respond to changes in the lead truck's direction or speed quickly. 

New Tech To Help Traffic And Save Fuel

By using software to dictate just how close the trucks get to one another, Engadget claims that the trucks can get extremely close to one another – well, closer than a human drive would be able to get – allowing the trucks to be much more fuel efficient by reducing drag and easing congestion, just like a regular self-driving car.

Transport Minister Paul Maynard explained how the system would be beneficial to everyone. "Advances such as lorry platooning could benefit business through cheaper fuel bills and other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion," he said. "We are investing in technology that will improve people's lives." 

TRL, as Engadget reports, has already done some initial studies into platooning, as the semi-autonomous truck trials were originally set to begin late last year. The project, though, was delayed, as the outlet claims multiple manufacturers of heavy goods vehicles weren't interested in taking part in the trials. 

While the idea of platooning seems like a great way to help reduce congestion and improve fuel economy for trucks, not everyone in the UK is on board. As Engadget claims, AA president Edmund King told the BBC: "We all want to promote fuel efficiency and reduce congestion but we are not yet convinced that lorry platooning on UK motorways is the way to go about it. We have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more exits and entries. Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America." 

via: Engadget, UK Gov

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