Driverless lorries to be trialled on Britain’s motorways

It has been announced by the government that partially driverless lorries will have been trialled on UK roads by the end of 2018

In tests to be carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory and funded by Highways England, the lorries will travel together in groups of two or three, connected by a wireless signal, with braking and acceleration regulated by the lead vehicle.

This move has been anticipated since 2014, when the government made known plans to action the project, which has been introduced as a means to reducing emissions and traffic congestion on the roads of Britain by lowering the air resistance against the latter vehicles in the convoy, reducing their fuel consumption. The change will also provide more efficient logistics, with no human sleep breaks required. Time saved will subsequently also have a positive effect on warehouse efficiency.

The decision to go ahead with these trials – which already faced a set-back last year after some European vehicle manufacturers abstained from taking part – has divided opinions both within and outside of the industry, with potential safety issues seeming to be the number one cause for concern.

Edmund King, president of the AA, has stated that, “A platoon of just three HGVs can obscure road signs from drivers in the outside lanes and potentially make access to entries or exits difficult for other drivers.”

Though trials have already been conducted overseas in the US, the AA have also voiced concerns that automated lorry convoys may cause issues on the UK’s already crowded motorways, citing the difference between road infrastructure in America and the UK – and debating whether they may provide any environmental benefit at all compared to electric vehicles.

With robotics already having been seamlessly integrated into many warehouses worldwide and reducing the margin for human error, it is strongly suggestible that the industry could again benefit from adapting to and moving with this advance in technology; the proposed benefits of partially-automated HGVs are notable, and some degree of automation in the future could even be argued as inevitable.

However, it also poses the significant question of whether we are becoming too reliant on technology which, it must not be forgotten, is not immune to glitches and errors. In this case alone, the dependence of up to three HGVs on wireless signal could be vulnerable to malfunction or even hijacking, which could spell disaster on the country’s already congested and often unpredictable roads.

What’s your take on this? Are we making valuable steps forward, or are we running before we can walk? Comment your thoughts below.

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