Wi-fi controlled driverless lorries operating in a platoon are set to be trialled on major roads in the UK by the end of 2018.
The trials – sponsored with £8.1m of government cash - will see up to three heavy goods vehicles travelling in convoy, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle.
All lorries in the platoon will always have a driver ready to take control at any time.
Transport minister Paul Maynard said: ‘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.’
TRL (Transport Research Laboratory) will carry out the testing process, which follows a government-funded feasibility study that recommended a trial to examine the benefits and viability of platooning.
The trial will be carried out in three phases, with the first focusing on the potential for platooning on major roads. Initial test track based trials will help researchers understand details such as the optimum distance between vehicles and on which roads the tests could take place.
Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England chief executive, said: ‘The trial has the potential to demonstrate how greater automation of vehicles – in this instance, HGVs – can deliver improvements in safety, better journeys for road users and reduction in vehicle emissions.’
Rob Wallis, chief executive at TRL said: ‘The UK has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the world in trialling connected vehicle platoons in a real-world environment.
‘TRL and its consortium of leading international partners, have the practical and technical knowledge gained from previous projects to understand what is required to put a connected vehicle platoon on to UK roads safely. The team are now taking that expertise and uniquely applying it within live traffic operations.’
Similar trials have already been successfully carried out in Europe and the United States.