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August 25, 2017updated 25 Jul 2022 8:43am

Self-driving lorries to hit UK roads as part of £8.1m government investment

The Department for Transport has invested £8.1m into semi-autonomous lorries trials across the UK.

By April Slattery

Wireless technology will be used to trial lorry ‘platooning’ on UK motorways. The technology will see up to three lorries travelling in convoy with acceleration, braking and steering in sync through the semi-autonomous technology, controlled by a lead vehicle.

Travelling close behind each other the vehicles are all linked electronically, communicating by GPS and Wi-Fi.

The lead vehicle will be controlled by a human who will determine the route, speed position and steering of the platoon trucks. Each following truck will have a driver sat inside, ready to take control at any time.

As the lorries drive close together, the front truck will hopefully push air out of the way to make the following convoy vehicles more efficient, lowering their emissions and also improve the air quality.  If the technology is successful there could be a saving of up to 22% in fuel emissions and consumptions.

Paul Maynard, Transport Minister said: “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.”

In the government’s announcement, the department for transport outlined that the trials would not be carried out unless there was “robust evidence that it can be done safely” and ensuring a driver is on hand to take over at any point reduces the risk of accidents.

Driverless cars are becoming increasingly popular around the world, with the likes of Apple, Volvo and Volkswagan testing the technology and the Government believes it can only benefit the UK’s economy and environment more developing autonomous lorry vehicles.

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As outlined by the Government, the safety of the product is imperative. As autonomous vehicles are becoming the norm, the standard of artificial intelligence increase which allows manufacturers to monitor and develop safety concerns of the product.

Mark Bridger, Vice President of Sales OpenText, said: “As autonomous vehicles become more common, the data they produce will become a new, powerful asset for organisations. AI will enable automakers to analyse, adapt, and suggest solutions based on data, bringing the world of driverless cars closer to reality.”  

“In this hyper-connected world, car companies need to ensure they are not only delivering the most innovative connected technology but that it is safe and reliable in order to install the level of trust needed for mass adoption.

“In order to achieve this, the automotive industry will need to manage and analyse their data sets to identify how the car is performing and alert them to possible safety issues.”

Experts across the transport sector welcome the use of artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles, stating how beneficial the technology will be to the UK.

Russell Goodenough, Client Managing Director: Transport Sector Fujitsu said: “Allowing platoons of self-driving lorries to be tested on our roads is a very positive step in getting the UK ready for autonomous vehicles.

“Evidence suggests that autonomous vehicles will reduce road accidents, as well as massively cutting delays and congestion. For consumers, connected and autonomous cars will free up time to relax or even work on the road, potentially boosting the country’s economic productivity.”

Following a string of cyber-attacks and recent research demonstrating the ease of hacking into robots and automated technology, Goodenough outlined that security and safety is paramount the implementation of driverless vehicles.

Read More: Driverless cars: A new way of life and a new cybersecurity challenge

Goodenough concluded and said:  “There remain key challenges to be addressed, including how these vehicles will fit into the existing transport infrastructure and the measures that must be taken to ensure their cyber security. We’ve already seen cases of connected and autonomous vehicles and even road signs being hacked – safety of the driver and passengers must be of the utmost concern.”

“This pilot project is a significant step in the right direction.”

The trial’s first phase will focus on the platooning potential on the UK’s major roads, like motorways. Major roads are expected to trial the lorry platooning by the end of 2018. Similar trials have already been successfully carried out in Europe, such as the Netherlands.

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