Driverless Lorries To Be Tested On UK Roads By End Of 2018

The [BBC] is reporting that driverless semi-trailer trucks or as we call them in the UK driverless Lorries are to be tested on UK roads. A contract has been awarded to the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) for the trials. Initially the technology will be tested on closed tracks, but these trials are expected to move to major roads by the end of 2018.

All  of these Lorries will be manned and driven in formation of up to three lorries in single file. The lead vehicle will connect to the others wirelessly and control their braking and acceleration. Human drivers will still be present to steer the following lorries in the convoy.

This automation will allow the trucks to drive very close together, reducing drag for the following vehicles to improve fuel efficiency.”Platooning” as they call these convoys has been tested in a number of countries around the world, including the US, Germany, and Japan.

Are these actually autonomous vehicles? This question is folly when looking toward the future of “self-driving”. The transition to robot vehicles will not happen in the blink of an eye, even if the technological barriers were all suddenly solved. That’s because it’s untenable for human drivers to suddenly be on the road with vehicles that don’t have a human brain behind the wheel. These changes will happen incrementally. The lorry tests are akin to networked cruise control. But we can see a path that will add in lane drift warnings, steering correction, and more incremental automation until only the lead vehicle has a person behind the wheel.

There is a lot of interest in the self driving industry right now from the self driving potato to autonomous delivery. We’d love to hear your vision of how automated delivery will sneak its way into our everyday lives. Tell us what you think in the comments below.

43 thoughts on “Driverless Lorries To Be Tested On UK Roads By End Of 2018

        1. The thing about that – a fixed infrastructure like a railway is the most cost-efficient when it serves only two points A and B on a fixed schedule that runs once both ways per day, and assumes that everyone arranges their schedule accordingly so the train is always fully booked.

          It works least efficiently when it tries to serve a large number of stops where people are tying to get from random stop to another random stop at a random time. In that configuration it’s less cost-effective than everyone just driving themselves because the infrastructure has fixed routes and that forces the passengers on extra loops and induces delays both on the trains for stopping often, and for the passengers for switching trains. It’s a similiar thing for busses, and even for taxis or robot cars which have to shuttle between customers and drive extra miles per customer mile.

          Which is exactly what was identified by Beeching. For example:

          >” the line from Thetford to Swaffham carried five trains each weekday in each direction, carrying an average of nine passengers with only 10% of the costs of operating the line covered by fares”

          In general, public transportation is either comprehensive or cost-efficient. You want cheap fares all around, you get shit for service, and vice versa. You could of course force people to live in the same overcrowded neighborhoods with skyrocketing property prices to make your public transportation work, and for the businesses to increase prices to afford the rents nearer to the transportation hubs, but that would be excluding all the lower classes of society and pushing them to the periphery devoid of services. Then you can increase taxes to subsidize it all to fix the social inequalities you’ve just created, and get yourself and your party voted out of the government.

          1. Beeching was the fall guy/hatchet man (take your pick). The real villian of the piece is Ernest Marples, closely linked to a road construction company at the time he was appointed Transport Minister.

            Your argument would hold water if there were no examples of excellent, affordable, and cost-effective railway systems, however, Japan does it very well.

            Again, a long line of “self driving” lorries differ very little from a freight train. For flexibility the trains can stop at “stations” and freight containers shifted to trucks for local delivery. This makes for efficient long-distance freight movement and versatile local distribution. The downside being that the railway gets a big chunk of the freight fees, and not the myriad on long-distance haulage companies. Vested interest? Surely not!

          2. >”Your argument would hold water if there were no examples of excellent, affordable, and cost-effective railway systems, however, Japan does it very well.”

            That’s because Japan is a mountainous island where people are concentrated into a bunch of very crowded cities, so that the trains are always full to capacity and people arrange their schedules according to the public transportation timetables. Also, because the Japanese government punishes car ownership with high taxes and onerous regulations.

            It is working, but you don’t necessarily want to live there. Many places employ special attendants called pushers whose job is to cram people through the doors into the subway car so the train could leave.

          3. Then theres this effect:


            Large city transportation systems become overwhelming for humans because they exceed out cognitive limits for planning a route. Even if you did make them better, the people wouldn’t know how to use them, and even if you gave them an app to navigate through it would simply be impossible to match the different schedules and delays to get you from A to B reliably on time every time. A more comprehensive system inevitably becomes too complex to serve its purpose.

            That’s because missing the schedule on public transportation has worse consequences than getting stuck in traffic in a car. In a car you’re getting there slower – on the train or bus you might not get there at all because you miss all the switches, and you have to plan a completely different route at a different time.

          4. Nonsense. I just came back from Paris (arguably a complex city – nothing is at right angles), where I got around for two weeks, to all parts of the city, using their “Metro” subway system. At no time did I wait more than four minutes for a train, and for no trip did I have to make more than two transfers. During the day, at all hours trains were nearly full, and even at night they were about half full. It cost me about 4 Euro/day. Public transportation CAN be done well.

  1. For authentic behaviour get them to pull out without indicating, drive as close to the back of the car in front as possible, and to try overtaking each other whilst going more or less the same speed for about 20 miles.

    1. If they really want to cut emissions, perhaps the best course of action is actually enforcing the rules that tell lorries to stay on the left (in the UK) when there are only two lanes.
      Every day I drive the M11 and a particularly hilly stretch of two lane motorway has signs telling lorries to stay on the left… and yet they spend that entire stretch overtaking each other at a 1mph differential.
      All the cars that accelerate and slow down cause far more damage to the environment than these lorries.

      Also, on the sam stretch of road is not uncommon to see 5 lorries so close together that no one can move to the left to exit…

      Honestly, the sooner we get people off the lorries, or even better, lorries out of the roads altogether, the better we’ll be.

      1. Apparently, according to the article, drivers will be steering.

        But that raises another issue : to get an appreciable aerodynamic effect the following vehicles have to be damn close to the leading vehicles. In that case the driver of said following vehicle can’t see the road fully because of the vehicle in front. Front vehicle swerves to avoid a pedestrian, but the following plows straight on, and over the pedestrian. The only automation (according to the article) is braking and acceleration.
        An accident *waiting* to happen.

        1. after re reading the article and reading the comments i have ony one question how many driverless railway networks are there?
          because trains only need to be turned on and off, yet AFAIK that’s not excessively common

  2. I hope they’ve also invented camera monitors, robotic middle fingers, and autonomous horns to blow at people who insert their SmartCars between the trucks…

    Traffic signals, round-a-bouts, and wrong turns seem like they would be especially painful for the lone driver.

      1. Which is pointless and dangerous because they’re not saving any expenses, the systems cost more than regular trucks, and it’s well known by this point that the switchover from automatic to driver control has serious issues which makes it also unsafe – especially if they’re napping which won’t be allowed for obvious reasons. It’s no good if the driver is sleeping at the back when the system breaks down and requires assistance.

        So the economic case is that it saves a little bit of fuel by driving closer up. Is that enough?

        1. No, you missed the part about developing the technology.

          It is unlikely that we’ll ever manage fully autonomous roads in the near future, which means that autonomous cars need to learn to play along with the other cars’ drivers. While (to a certain extent) road conditions can be simulated in the lab (or on a closed circuit), it doesn’t compare to real world data.

          There probably won’t be any huge economic savings at this stage, but they’ll obtain a lot of data that will be valuable in gradually improving the system until it is completely autonomous.

          1. No, you miss the point of evolution.

            If there’s no actual benefit, then how do you expect transportation companies to pick it up? If they don’t pick it up and actually drive around for your real world data, how do you develop the system?

            Self-driving cars is a sort of unobtaininum because they’re not safe enough to let on the roads yet, and they won’t be unless you let them on the road to test what works and what doesn’t. That’s because the AI system researchers are approaching the problem from the bug-squashing point of view, of running the system until it fails and then patching it up with an exception to the case. They could of course go back to the drawing board and come up with a general AI that they can prove works and understands its task, but since that doesn’t involve millions of government research funds to play with trucks, they won’t.

  3. i for one, welcome our diesel powered robotic overlords

    (i dont know about UK car drivers, but US car drivers seem to think that any vehicle over 35 feet (10ish meters) can stop instantly and make 90 degree turns while instantly changing lanes)

    Darwin drives a semi?

    1. oh yes, it’s the same in the uk, plus speed limiters to ensure a laden truck is faster down hill than a lighter one but slower up hill thus ensuring an endless round of overtaking at 5 miles per round, and fixed speed cameras, these beauties are guaranteed to slow the car that just overtook you to 15 mph slower than it was going and 5 mph slower than both the speed limit and you, all in the name of safety.
      It’s why I don’t drive trucks any more.

  4. I drove over m6 today there wasn’t much driving going on one car fire a truck smashed its own load into back of trailer and on the way back a truck stuck under a bridge

  5. I wonder if they took turbulence into account. Also, being that this is just glorified cruise control, why couldn’t they just hitch them together and break them up when they get near the loading dock instead of keeping them in such a tight formation? At least when hitched, the other drivers become unnecessary. Plus, a rig without a cab would have offered greater fuel economy.

    1. they already do this in Australia the have the truck train but again this is an exercise in normalising the idea to the public so that we have driverless lorries/semi’s cuttin out the need to pay an employee to drive the things. lorry-train

      1. I’ve heard of them. I’m just inquiring on what they trying to accomplish with this. The tech works but they still want drivers in the loop? They could have the drivers at the loading dock to hand control over like they do with drones.

      2. If they were engineered in a manner that allowed the introduction or removal of any container in the train, like the middle disconnecting from the front and rear, exiting on it’s own to say a parking lot close by awaiting a local human driver to navigate it to its destination, and then the front and rear halves of the train reconnecting automatically… I see potential there. Interconnect the fuel systems and you have the ability to refuel without stopping. A small team of drivers and some personnel containers to shuffle them in and out and you end up with a “train” that almost never has to stop.

        Relegate them to limited access highways and non exit lanes (easy enough, with a few exceptions) and you could possibly see actual train like efficiency or better, but much more versatile.

    1. Bugger the safety, these things are going to be a target for being hacked & stolen. A truck can easily carry a million monies worth of something (cigarettes being a prime easy example), ignoring the fact the actual truck cost north of 100k and spares are worth serious cash.

      Cars are small fry, but take over someone’s truck loaded with stuff and you’ve made some decent cash.

      Uncle used to drive trucks, if they had valuable cargo (again, ciagrettes f’rexample) they actually had permission to NOT stop for police because of the risk of fake police stopping them & jacking the truck – they would phone the real police for confirmation and/or hold up a sign that said “I’m ignoring you, I’m gonna drive to the nearest police station, see you there”. Now imagine how tempting this is for hackers to redirect a truckload of merchandise.

  6. Will all three/four trucks/lorries be fully loaded to make it profitable?

    For that photo with the Australian Truck Train is viable because they are all fully loaded with “something” (probably coal or worst). And usually in the middle of nowhere (mining locations). And good new roads built for that purpose only.
    So it work$.

    But how about shifting other less massively bulky items? Fuel? Vegetables? Food?
    I wonder…

    Great idea that can be implemented with just ONE driver and following “intelligent driverless” trucks that just follow the leader (with a human in control). Not much computational intelligence needed.

    Interesting nonetheless.

  7. I’m guessing there is a longer term plan, because what is being proposed is essentially an unbelievably expensive trailer.

    Is the only fuel-saving efficiency due to less turbulence?

    If there is a problem and the front vehicle crashes, do all of the associated “semi-autonomous trailers” faithfully repeat the error and pile-in?

    As noted, how does a faster vehicle overtake?

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