Driverless lorries are coming to the UK

Partially driverless lorries will be trialled on UK roads before the end of next year, the government has announced

The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) will test a number of “platoons”, with up to three lorries travelling together in formation. A human driver will control the lead vehicle, with acceleration and braking mirrored by the other lorries using wireless technology. Humans will be in control of steering of the semi-autonomous vehicles.

Transport minister Paul Maynard has said that the close formation of the lorries, with the front vehicle pushing air out of the way for the others, could lead to more efficient travel and low emissions. The AA, however, has raised concerns about the effectiveness of the system on UK roads, warning that a convoy could block road signs for other users.

“We all want to promote fuel efficiency and reduce congestion, but we are not yet convinced that lorry platooning on UK motorways is the way to go about it,” said the AA’s president, Edmund King, noting the number of exits and entries on the UK road system.

“Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America.”

The government had pledged to put together a trial for semi-autonomous lorries back in 2014, but these plans were held back after a lack of commitment from European lorry makers. It looks like those differences have been put aside for the time being, with the TRL partnering with Dutch manufacturer DAF Trucks, German logistics company DHL and British smart tech transport firm Ricardo.

“The rise of AI will have profound ramifications for all industries, and ensuring workers are supported through tech training and a clear digital career path is vital for companies seeking to thrive in today’s digital age,” commented Chas Moloney, director of tech consultancy Ricoh UK.

Indeed, one large area of concern for the rise of autonomous vehicles in the transport industry is what it will mean for employment. Earlier this year Goldman Sachs Economics Research found that, when the technology comes of age, US drivers could see job losses at a rate of 25,000 a month, or 300,000 a year.

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