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article image'Self-driving' trucks to be tested on British roads

By Tim Sandle     Aug 27, 2017 in Technology
London - The British government has given permission for self-driving lorries (trailer trucks) to take to the British roads. This is in the form of an experiment, involving three large vehicles. The trial will take place in 2018.
There's been much talk about self-driving (or autonomous) vehicles yet few countries have adopted them. This partly due to technological limitations and partly due to concerns about the reaction of the general public. Yet self-driving vehicles promises many advantages for the freight industry. According to analysts Catapult, self-driving freight trucks promise for the haulage sector reduced fuel costs, emissions and the potential for 24 hour utilization of vehicles. Another reason is that, in theory, replacing a human driver with a computer will reduce the number of car accidents and make roads safer.
Self-driving vehicles can be placed into difference classes. Three such examples are called out by Heike Flämig, from the University of Hamburg:
Interstate Pilot as highly automated highway driving with a driver and free navigation;
Vehicle On Demand as highly automated highway driving without a driver and with free navigation;
Full Automation Using Driver for Extended Availability—Follow-me Vehicle as highly automated driving without a driver and without free navigation.
These illustrate that there are different definitions to 'self-driving' and different future models to be trialed by the vehicle industry and the freight sector. For many in the sector, the use of autonomous trucks is simply an extension of the degree of automation already underway. For instance, logistics firm Cerasis mentions how autonomous forklifts, and robot arms are a common piece of technology in modern warehouses. These machines load, unload and transport goods within the warehouse area.
The idea of the self-driving truck on the road has edged closer thanks to shifts in the capabilities of LIDAR (Light Imaging Detection and Ranging) and RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging) technology, together with advanced cameras by companies like MobileEye which aid the human-less vehicle ' to see'.
These advances are one reason, the BBC reports, that a contract has been awarded to an organization called the Transport Research Laboratory to carry out tests of vehicle "platoons" on British motorways (freeways). Partners in the project are DAF Trucks, a Dutch lorry manufacturer; Ricardo, a British smart tech transport firm; and DHL, a German logistics company.
The video below gives a simulation of how this might work:
The trial will involve three lorries will travel in formation, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle. The lead vehicle will be controlled by a human driver, with the lead vehicle communicating with the other vehicles wirelessly. To allay safety concerns, when the brakes are applied, the entire fleet slows down at the same time. If successful, the trial would be a major step in transforming the way goods are distributed across the road network.
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