The government is pushing ahead with trials next year of a new autonomous driving system on lorries called 'platooning', in which a trio of lorries will be wirelessly controlled by the lead vehicle, and automatically diven close together for efficiency benefits.
It is claimed that platooning will cut fuel costs and congestion, but will still require a human being as back up in the driver's seat, ready to take the wheel if something goes wrong. It has the backing, and more than £8m in funding, of the UK government.
The idea is that the lead vehicle will control the speed and flow of the two behind it, and that they will benefit in terms of improved speed and fuel efficiency from being in its slipstream.
"We are investing in technology that will improve people's lives. Advances such as lorry platooning could benefit businesses through cheaper fuel bills and other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion," said Transport Minister Paul Maynard.
He added: "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."
A feasibility study has already been carried out, but now the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) is planning to start some serious on-road testing. Statements about the trials suggest that it is the government that has pushed for the trials.
We won't see trials on our actual motorways until late 2018, and even then the technology may be hampered by sheer weight of traffic - how will vehicles pull-in if they want to exit the motorway if lorries are being platooned end to end?
The 'powers that be', though, are supporting the initiative.
"We are pleased to be supporting the government's ambition for the UK to be a global leader for innovation. 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," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief executive at Highways England.
He continued: "Investing in this research shows we care about those using our roads, the economy and the .environment, and safety will be integral as we take forward this work with TRL."
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