Semi-autonomous truck platoon trials coming to UK in 2018

The UK government is investing £8.1 million in semi-autonomous trucking trials across UK roadways next year.

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The UK government is investing £8.1 million (roughly $10.4 million US) in semi-autonomous trucking trials in 2018. According to a government research report, the trials will be testing the feasibility of heavy vehicle platoons, where semi-automated trucks follow behind a lead vehicle.

The government will be working with Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) on the automation of the heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). The goal of the trial is to determine what the full impact or benefits of semi-autonomous trucks will be.

"We are investing in technology that will improve people's lives. Advances such as lorry platooning could benefit businesses through cheaper fuel bills and other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion. But first we must make sure the technology is safe and works well on our roads, and that's why we are investing in these trials," transport minister Paul Maynard said in a press release.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of autonomous vehicles (Tech Pro Research)

The UK government initially planned to start trials in spring 2016, but those plans didn't materialize. Now that the government has a manufacturing partner, however, they can move forward. Still, some question the viability of autonomous vehicles on congested British roads.

The concept of platooning has been tested in other parts of the world as well. The technology is considered one of the most feasible stepping stones toward full autonomy, and is being worked into Tesla's efforts with semi-trucks as well.

In the UK trials, there will be a lead vehicle with a driver, which will be followed by the other trucks. However, each truck in the platoon will have a driver at the wheel to take over in case of emergency, the report said.

If successful, the trials could prove improve emissions and help the environment, as the platooned trucks drive in the slipstream of the lead vehicles. The trial will also be testing the impact of these semi-autonomous vehicles on UK business, the transport network, and road safety, the report said.

Autonomous vehicle innovations have been moving at a rapid clip over the past few years. And while the consumer world will see a major impact, the transport industry across land, sea, and air is facing major disruption. For trucking specifically, the changes could upend the manufacturing process, the energy sector, and displace millions of drivers around the world.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. The UK government is investing £8.1 million in semi-autonomous trucking trials in 2018, utilizing platooning technology.
  2. The vehicles will follow a lead truck, using its slipstream to improve efficiency and lower costs.
  3. The trials aim to research the impact of autonomous trucks on UK businesses, the transport network, the environment, and road safety.

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