The Department of Transport has announced that self-driving lorries will hit the UK's motorways by the end of next year. The autonomous vehicles will travel in fleets of three in order to test the technology for future application.
The head of the fleet will be the one controlling the acceleration, and it's hoped that moving the lorries in this fashion will help make the other two more efficient with the slipstream helping to reduce their emissions. That information implies they aren't electric, though, so why aren't they electric? Surely lorries are big enough that can put one (or more) giant batteries inside for range superior to that of most electric cars.
The Department of Transport has also confirmed that there will be a driver inside each lorry, ready to take control should anything go wrong.
The trial will take place in three stages, with the first focussing on the effectiveness of platooning lorries together. Test track data will be used to work out the most appropriate distance to have between each lorry, and which roads the testing should take place on. The DoT hasn't revealed what the other two stages are, but has said that none of them will begin until there is firm evidence that it can be done safely.
As you can expect with announcements like this, some people aren't happy about it. AA chief Edmund King seems to think that the platoons will obstruct motorway signs and sliproads, and has expressed concern about platooning self-driving lorries on the UK's congested roads. He says that it might work in larger countries like the USA and Europe, but not the UK.
I wonder if King has been on a busy motorway during rush hour. It's been a while since I've done it regularly, but I do recall lorries bunching up together on the inside lane. I also remember irritating lorries overtaking on a three lane motorway with snail-like acceleration.
Self-driving vehicles offer a lot of benefits, and I personally don't think we should let the advancement be hampered because some people worried about congestion. Congestion is a problem whatever way you look at it, and at least with autonomous vehicles we can reduce the human quirks that cause congestion to build up in the first place. And, you know, people can ride it out by watching Netflix or something. [Department of Transport via London Evening Standard]