back to article 'Driverless' lorry platoons will soon be on a motorway near you

The Transport Research Laboratory will be starting trials of semi-autonomous "platooning" technology, using lorries on UK roads. Live trials are expected to take place on Britain's "major roads" by the end of 2018, according to a government statement. These will make up the final stage of the project, with the first two being …

  1. Alister Silver badge

    Live trials are expected to take place on Britain's "major roads" by the end of 2018, according to a government statement.

    Great!, And how do they get to and from the "major roads" I wonder?

    Or is the plan just to drive a troop of lorries round and round the M25 until it turns into a gateway to another dimension?

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Odegra

      Aha, the dread sigil Odegra as represented by the shape of the M25 (thanks to Crawley's handiwork)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Odegra

        I know that Crawley is the pits (creepy crawley) and it is a relief to get out of the place but what has it to do with the shape of the M25?

        Is it the £2.50 minimum parking fee or the potholes that masquerade as roads or is it something else?

        1. rmason Silver badge

          Re: Odegra

          It's a Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaimen reference.

          Don't worry, no one is picking on Crawley (as much as it deserves it).

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Coat

            "Don't worry, no one is picking on Crawley (as much as it deserves it)."

            Ah, I had thought some reference to the "Great Beast" himself, summoning some ancient evil.

            It's not a jacket, it's more a set of hooded robes

        2. Jonathan Richards 1
        3. macjules Silver badge
    2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Bum - I was about to say exactly the same thing!

      +1

    3. Cuddles Silver badge

      "Great!, And how do they get to and from the "major roads" I wonder?"

      They'll be driven there by the drivers that all the lorrys will have. The convoy part only means the back lorries will copy the front one's (which is entirely manual) acceleration and braking, the steering will be done by a human who will still have full manual control when needed. The eventual plan might involve more automation, but these first tests are basically just adaptive cruise control with feed-forward instead of just feedback.

      As for the complaints that they could just use a train, the problem with trains, and Australian-style road trains, is that they're limited in where they can go and everything always has to end up at a central terminal before being loaded onto other vehicles for local distribution. The advantage of convoying regular lorries is that they can get similar fuel savings while on major trunk roads, but split away to different destinations as and when required.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        My concern is how they overtake the old biddy doing 45mph in lane 1.

        If the first lorry is sending instructions back to the other two, then an overtake would have to take into account the whole length of the convoy before verifying it is safe to do so.

        It's hard for single lorries to get into the other lanes sometimes, so no idea how 3 will cope.

        1. Martin Summers Silver badge

          "It's hard for single lorries to get into the other lanes sometimes, so no idea how 3 will cope."

          Have you ever argued with a lorry pulling out into the lane you're in? I tend to find when they put their indicator on they just go for it.

          1. caffeine addict Silver badge

            Actually, I find if you gently drift toward them, they get back in their lane surprisingly quickly...

          2. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
            Flame

            Have you ever argued with a lorry pulling out into the lane you're in? I tend to find when they put their indicator on they just go for it.

            Indeed I have, I was alongside at the time, driving myself and my wife back from an anniversary trip.

            The bastard heard me on the horn, we could both see him looking at us in his wing mirror. I was wedged up against the crash barrier on one side and his tyres on the other before I'd managed to slow up enough for the bulk of the lorry to pass in front of us - he didn't stop straight away either.

            Bastard nearly killed us and he didn't even get out of his cab when I managed to flag him down and turn into a petrol station forecourt.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              "Bastard nearly killed us and he didn't even get out of his cab when I managed to flag him down and turn into a petrol station forecourt."

              Too bad you didn't have a dashcam. You could have called the cops instead and had it used as evidence of dangerous driving.

          3. MachDiamond Silver badge

            "Have you ever argued with a lorry pulling out into the lane you're in? I tend to find when they put their indicator on they just go for it."

            Lorry drivers use their indicators to let you know what they are going to do, not to ask permission. The schmuck driving in the lane the lorry wants to move to will suddenly speed up and block them if given too much time between the signal and the start of the move.

        2. Brenda McViking
          Go

          It's completely doable if you've ever done proper convoy driving and everyone in the convoy knows how to act - the front vehicle signals, the vehicle behind it does the same and so on all the way down the chain and the rear vehicle is the one to move over first but keeps constant speed once manoevured, thus opening a gap for the rest. You can only sensibly do it on 3+ lane motorways but it can work.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        the steering will be done by a human who will still have full manual control when needed

        In the trials, perhaps. But if this bad idea ever reaches the roads, then the "following" drivers will either be asleep or watching grumble-DVDs. And lane 2 will be blockaded by another singleton trucker trying to overtake a ten truck convoy with a 0.0001 mph speed difference.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          "another singleton trucker trying to overtake a ten truck convoy with a 0.0001 mph speed difference."

          Known in the US as "Elephant Racing".

      3. Stratman

        So the speed of the convoy will be determined by the lead truck.

        Much like it is now.

      4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        "The convoy part only means the back lorries will copy the front one's"

        So much like that EU project a few years ago with the other cars staying a pre set distance apart and all vehicles braking and accelerating as a unit.

        I think they called that a "road-train" as well.

        This technology really is cutting edge.

        1. Commswonk Silver badge

          Re: "The convoy part only means the back lorries will copy the front one's"

          @ John Smith 19: So much like that EU project a few years ago with the other cars staying a pre set distance apart and all vehicles braking and accelerating as a unit...

          ...This technology really is cutting edge.

          If I try very hard I can just about see "synchronous braking", but "accelerating as a unit" no

          OK if there are 3 identical LGVs, identically loaded then perhaps, but if the same vehicles are loaded with different weights then their acceleration performance is going to differ. The drive trains may have 8 / 12 / 16 gears, given range - change gearboxes and splitters, and for synchronised acceleration to work then those gear changes are going to have to be more or less synchronous as well. If the lead vehicle is lightly loaded it may only have to drop a single gear (which might necessitate a range change) while a following heavier - loaded vehicle might have to drop two gears (or even more) and might definitely need a range change to match any acceleration.

          Or are following vehicles going to be able to / have to signal forwards with "I cannot accelerate that fast; reduce Δv"?

          If the vehicles are of different design or manufacture (or even age) then their drive trains might be radically different (in terms of number of gears available and their ratios) so that one vehicle might require gear changes that another does not; LGVs have significantly different power bands (as indicated by the green segment on the rev counter) and so on...<further techy stuff omitted>

          I would hate to have be the driver in a "following" vehicle; I simply couldn't tolerate being forced to be that close to the vehicle ahead. Apart from that I would be in a state of perpetual worry about how far my legal liability extended in the event of a mishap.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: "The convoy part only means the back lorries will copy the front one's"

          "I think they called that a "road-train" as well.

          This technology really is cutting edge."

          Exactly, so "cutting edge" that it was being experimented with in the 1970's with cars on test tracks.

      5. JohnMurray

        So: a long line of trucks driving up each others arses with minimal gaps between, with automatons behind the wheel.

        So: no change from now!

        On another tack, will the automatic driving devices be parked-up dogging the Laybys at night?

    4. John Robson Silver badge

      Getting to the major road is easy - you use a driver.

      Getting from the major road is even easier than now - you use a driver who is rested rather than one who has spent the last n hours concentrating on the (almost unchanging) road around them.

      This should reduce the tendency of HGV drivers to suffer from fatigue towards the end of their journey.

      1. PickledAardvark

        Rested drivers and the new Pony Express

        John Robson: "Getting from the major road is even easier than now - you use a driver who is rested..."

        In the UK, a lorry driver is "at rest" when s/he isn't at work. S/he can nap in the bunk with a second driver taking control, but it doesn't count as rest. The lorry has to be parked for the nap to become driver rest.

        One way around this limitation is for the lorry platoon to pull off the motorway, plonk a transfer driver from awaiting minibus to the cab of the lorry performing the local delivery, send another minibus to pick up the transfer driver from the goods depot for the next job, send minibus number three with another transfer driver when the lorry has been unloaded to take the lorry to a depot to be reloaded or to join a platoon unladen. It's a bit like horse drawn transport where the power unit has to be changed every 30 miles, but with less hay. I suspect that the algorithms used by train operators to put drivers in the right place may be applicable.

        All you need to worry about is the cost/environmental impact of minibuses and lost time taking platoons off the motorway. Don't fret about wage cost or availability of transfer drivers -- somebody will have a app for that. The economics of this system will become clear when high tech investors have operated it for a few years with huge losses and slowly withdraw subsidies after they have killed off the competition. Government will make their logistics easier too.

        Platoons are a bad option for HGV manufacturers. If there are fewer small hauliers and bigger big ones, profit per lorry sold falls.

        1. M7S

          Re: Rested drivers and the new Pony Express

          I may be being cynical, but I feel that once this tech is "proven", that drivers will still be required, just employed on something similar to a zero hours basis and therefore only for the fiddly bits at each end despite having to sit in the cab (presumably "on call" and thus liable for any problem, but not actually paid to drive) for the rest of the journey.

      2. j.bourne

        The driver is still going to have to concentrate on the road. It's not full autopilot being proposed just speed control.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          "The driver is still going to have to concentrate on the road. It's not full autopilot being proposed just speed control."

          Yes they are initially proposing a lower level of assistance - but the end game is what we are concentrating on.

          In the same way that Mercury and Gemini were useless at getting men on the moon... except that they weren't.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "The driver is still going to have to concentrate on the road. It's not full autopilot being proposed just speed control."

          ...and an even more boring view of the arse end of the HGV in front and not much else since it will be a *lot* closer than normal.

      3. PassingStrange

        Getting from the major road is even easier than now - you use a driver who is rested rather than one who has spent the last n hours concentrating on the (almost unchanging) road around them.

        No, you use a driver who has just spent n hours of mind-numbing boredom staring at the back of the vehicle in front with no more variety than twiddling the steering wheel enough to keep that vehicle much closer in front of him than he is likely to be comfortable with.

        I really hope the following vehicles have some sort of driver alertness monitor, because I don't want to be anywhere near that convoy after 3 or 4 hours on the road if it hasn't.

    5. The Hungry Ghost
      Terminator

      I believe that there will still be drivers steering the vehicle, and I presume able to take control if required, its just that the speed will be controlled by the lead vehicle allowing the trucks to be much closer to each other, benefiting from reduced wind resistance

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "benefiting from reduced wind resistance"

        Apart from the poor sap at the front who gets the full on effect of "breaking trail". Or will there be a regular shift of the lead lorry dropping to the back of the queue every so many miles? Like geese in V formation.

    6. This post has been deleted by its author

    7. PassingStrange

      Great!, And how do they get to and from the "major roads" I wonder?

      Apparently, the slaved lorries still have drivers, who are responsible for steering while they're "platooning". I presume that they'll simply take over and drive as normal at other times.

      Can't say I'm wildly enamoured; it sounds a classic case of some bright spark in a lab getting unrealistically enthusiastic, and selling the idea to a government department that doesn't know any better.

    8. macjules Silver badge

      'Driverless' lorry platoons will soon be on a motorway near you

      Now think of the crash in sales of Yorkie bars and the decline in service station prostitution ..

    9. Alan Brown Silver badge

      " is the plan just to drive a troop of lorries round and round the M25 until it turns into a gateway to another dimension?"

      only if they drive widdershuns.

  2. frank ly Silver badge

    Versatility

    "... lorries doing 55.9mph up a single-carriageway hill, ..."

    Other, slower speeds will be available.

    1. Boothy

      Re: Versatility

      Including presumably the legal maximum speed for a HGV, which certainly isn't 55.9mpg on a single carriageway in the UK (It's 50 in England and Wales, 40 in Scotland).

      1. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: Versatility

        "Including presumably the legal maximum speed for a HGV, which certainly isn't 55.9mpg on a single carriageway in the UK (It's 50 in England and Wales, 40 in Scotland)."

        No. 40mph in England and Wales, 50mph for dual carriageways, 60mph on motorways.

        1. fridaynightsmoke

          Re: Versatility

          The speed limits in England & Wales for a >7.5t HGV have been 50mph (single carriageway), 60mph (dual carriageway) and 60mph (motorway) for several years now. https://www.gov.uk/speed-limits

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Convoy

    C'mon....why is it a platoon? We all know we want ourselves a Convoy, good buddy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Convoy

      Damn you for the earworm!

      'Cause we got a little convoy

      Rockin' through the night.

      Yeah, we got a little convoy,

      Ain't she a beautiful sight?

      1. Chloe Cresswell

        Re: Convoy

        Don't forget:

        It was a foggy day,

        on the 6th of may,

        In a scammell hauling bricks...

        ;)

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Convoy

          Hmm? That's not how I recall it:

          Was the dark of the moon

          on the 6th of June,

          In a Kenworth pullin' logs...

          1. Chloe Cresswell

            Re: Convoy

            That's because my lyrics are from Convoy GB https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-FZZ7ye7h8

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Convoy

              I thought about when I rolled over the word Scammell in my head and then looked it up and realized it's a British truck maker. Figures, must be a British version of the song. The one I quoted was the original by C. W. McCall (also covered by Kris Kristofferson, I think). Inspired a movie with its own lyrics.

    2. Commswonk Silver badge

      Re: Convoy

      @nick_rampart: C'mon....why is it a platoon?

      Listening with half an ear to Today on Radio 4 this morning it's because a company working on the technology has Peloton in its name, and Peloton is French for platoon.

      Simples <squeak>

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    A closely linked collection of container trucks, all moving at the same speed, coupled together, and controlled by a single driver? Wasn't the train invented in the 1800s?

    Or even better - given the absolute need to get containers full of tat across the country - get them on the canals...

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      +1 for the train

      I'd give you a +2 for the canals if I could.

    2. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble? Silver badge

      Absolutely. My first thought when I heard about this was something along the lines of "what's wrong with the Australian road train setup?" If the lorries are going to run that closely together, then surely a physical link rather than a virtual one is far safer and more appropriate? Because there will always be someone on the motorway that tries to pull in between lorries 2 and 3, and if they are closer than 1 car length apart, then hitch them together with a physical tow link.

      Overly complicated solution looking for a problem in my opinion.

      1. defiler Silver badge

        what's wrong with the Australian road train setup?

        This, and very much this.

        There is legislation on the maximum length of artics in the UK, and having road-train-style vehicles is banned. I remember a few years ago a news article that Eddie Stobart (I think) were trialing oversized lorries that were technically too long for the road, but they said they'd basically wing it.

        This wireless trial would seem to dodge that legislation by making them separate physical entities, even though they are operated together. Surely the simpler solution would be to legislate to permit road-trains instead on certain routes. Same saving on fuel and salaries.

        1. Chloe Cresswell

          Re: what's wrong with the Australian road train setup?

          Denby

          http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-lincolnshire-20318649/denby-transport-bids-to-cut-costs-with-super-lorry

          1. defiler Silver badge

            Re: what's wrong with the Australian road train setup?

            @Chloe

            Thank you - I did look, but I had thought it was Stobart so I had no chance!

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: what's wrong with the Australian road train setup?

          "Surely the simpler solution would be to legislate to permit road-trains instead on certain routes."

          But to do that would require the (re-)construction of a network of terminals where the "trains" arrive and depart and smaller lorries can then take the loads into the towns and cities. Maybe call them "Freightliner Terminals" or something. And since we're going to all this trouble to build special terminals at special locations, we could maybe include a rail line into the terminal so actual trains on rails could take part in this new fangled freight network.

        3. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: what's wrong with the Australian road train setup?

          "There is legislation on the maximum length of artics in the UK, and having road-train-style vehicles is banned"

          The problem (as mentioned) is that road trains have to go from depot to depot and then be split up for local distribution.

          That's not as big a problem as it sounds if they are restricted to motorways - and just as you have m'way services, you can fairly easily have road-train stations.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Theory, meet reality

    I'm sure platooning could have a significant effect on fuel consumption/emissions - in countries whose motorways have junctions 20+ miles apart. However that's rarely the case in the UK, so the platoon's likely to spend most of its time spreading out before junctions to let other vehicles in, and forming up again afterwards - just in time to open up again for the next junction 5 miles on. However since this little project has been politically driven from the start (an Osborne obsession), it seems unlikely they'll ever admit it if the result is "meh".

    1. Ol'Peculier

      Re: Theory, meet reality

      And as they attempt to get back in convoy, in between each lorry is Nissan Micra being driven by a 70 year old petrified pensioner that's terrified of moving into the middle lane...

      1. smudge Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Theory, meet reality

        And as they attempt to get back in convoy, in between each lorry is Nissan Micra being driven by a 70 year old petrified pensioner that's terrified of moving into the middle lane...

        In the trial they will all be following a lorry with a human driver. I was thinking about what would happen when they are used for real. I just hope it's that pensioner in the Micra they follow, and not the arsehole in the BMW in the outside lane.

        1. PNGuinn
          WTF?

          Re: Theory, meet reality

          This could have one advantage ...

          There will be lots of a******es* in beamers, mercs and audis only too eager to force themselves in between the lorries ... Lots and lots of well earned Darwin awards. **

          * Other brands of a******es are available.

          ** Another Australian reference - I MUST be right.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Theory, meet reality

        Rubbish - Simple observation suggests that petrified pensioners are all permanently in the middle lane...

    2. Stuart 22

      Re: Theory, meet reality

      "I'm sure platooning could have a significant effect on fuel consumption/emissions - in countries whose motorways have junctions 20+ miles apart."

      I would have thought a major justification of this experiment is measure the practical - as opposed to theoretical savings. The latter should be substantial in the mind of any cyclist who has draughted the cyclist in front. Its not just wind resistance - but the braking/acceleration and distance should be perfectly matched to the vehicle in front instead of the driver's tendency to overbrake when he suddenly notices the lorry in front getting close - and having to over-accelerate to catch up again.

      That's substantial when you rapidly and continually changing the inertia of upwards of 40 tons!

      Everybody on the radio is quoting potential hazards - but not taking into account how tailgating (the manual method) relies on quick thinking time to avoid pile-ups. Removing that lost time should mean a reduction in shunts from the rear.

      The point is - until you test it - you ain't really going to know. But theoretically it should be a win and worth a try.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Theory, meet reality

        I suspect that theory won't actually meet reality until way down the road...

        For lorry platoons/conveys to work all members have to be practically identical both in terms of performance and in terms of laden weight, something that is likley to be the case in the test environment.

        You only need one vehicle to be 'under powered' and the platoon/convey will fall apart on the first rise - this effect can be seen today on UK roads, where lorries will happily bunch up until drivers realise the lorry in front hasn't got the power to maintain speed at which point the driver has to rapidly make a decision, apply the brakes and suffer or pull out (hoping car driver in your blind spot has seen your predicament or is behind your rear wheels and so can take evasive action) and overtake...

        > The latter should be substantial in the mind of any cyclist who has draughted the cyclist in front.

        This point reminds me, you have to train cyclists to ride as a team - doing 20+kmph with only a couple of inches between riders wheels is not for the faint hearted. Plus it takes discipline to be the lead rider - the number of times I've seen lead rider's forget they have a team following them... I don't see the lorry convey/platoon being much different.

        The more I think about this the more I see it is a bad idea, hence I wonder whether the real reason the UK government is doing this is because of all the investment money sloshing around - some of which is finding it's way into party coffers...

      2. PNGuinn
        Trollface

        Re: Theory, meet reality

        Aha! you have it.

        Put a load of Boris types on Boris bikes between the lorries. Lots of really green bonuses ...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Be curious to see if driverless lorries

    will block up roads by overtaking with a speed differential you need to express in scientific notation ....

    1.0x10E-9 mph

  7. RyokuMas Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    If the driverless lorries stick to the slow lane on motorways no matter what, they get my vote!

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      But then how will *other* vehicles get onto the motorway. Currently, slip roads are long enough to adjust your speed to join traffic where the longest blockage is 20m. If there's half a mile of lorry going past you will either end up stuck on the (increasingly non-existant) hard shoulder, or come to a stop to give way to passing traffic, and then attempt to enter traffic going at 70 mumphs from zero - exactly what motorways are supposed designed to avoid.

  8. Andy Livingstone

    Last I heard it was supposedly to be tested on the Northern M6 in 2016.

    Where's it been?

    1. smudge Silver badge

      Last I heard it was supposedly to be tested on the Northern M6 in 2016.

      Where's it been?

      Stopped at Tebay and liked it so much it stayed there.

  9. tiggity Silver badge

    "While the initial image this news prompts is probably that of a platoon of networked lorries doing 55.9mph up a single-carriageway hill"

    My first image was platoon doing 55 MPH on M-Way, been (eventually) overtaken by other singleton lorries doing 55.00001 MPH (or whatever, that is just marginally faster sp the overtake lasts what seems like an eternity)

    .. and everyone else wanting to go at a speed beyond 55 stuck in outside lane, burt that getting so congested that speed there drops to almost the same

    .

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do as they do in France

    Keep all the Van and Lorries on the inside lane, no overtaking, 60 mph max.

    This creates a natural convoy of transport vehicles, and the other lanes are free for faster moving car traffic.

    Works a treat.

    Added 'intelligent vehicle autonomy' not required initially - this should be implemented without tech first, and the autonomous tech would then slot in nicely to this regime afterwards when the tech is proven to be safe.

    1. Chemist

      Re: Do as they do in France

      "Keep all the Van and Lorries on the inside lane, no overtaking, 60 mph max."

      Where did you get that bit of nonsense ?

      Having done ~50,000 miles in France I can tell you that it's not true.

  11. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    The only use for these will be

    To enforce a 10mph rolling road block. I seem to encounter one at least twice a week on the southern section of the M25 car park.

    Lane changing for anything more than 3 trucks will be crash heaven. As has been said some idiot in a Micra or Prius will get inbetween them and will never be seen again.

  12. James 51 Silver badge

    Diverless lorries might do for getting stuff from a big warehouse to another big warehouse but they won't be able to do deliveries to small shops by themselves.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      That's fine, they don't need to deliver to the shops (where you need someone in the truck to get the stuff out of it and into the shop)

      They could still have (eventually) autonomous trucks driving those routes, and a guy who's just along for the ride and does the grunt work that the truck can't do. Another option would be having a few guys who have a preplanned route who are each in a separate autonomous car that takes them to the shops where they do the grunt work, so there isn't as much down time.

      i.e. if you have a flower delivery truck that has only a dozen stops in a day over a 200 mile route that's a lot of wasted time for a guy sitting in the truck, but there was one guy in each town who helped with getting stuff out of the flower truck, the meat truck, the furniture truck and the beer truck he would have only a few minutes of downtime between stops so they'd need fewer people overall. It would take a lot of clever coordination to pull that off, but that's the kind of stuff computers are good at.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "i.e. if you have a flower delivery truck that has only a dozen stops in a day over a 200 mile route that's a lot of wasted time for a guy sitting in the truck,"

        Sounds like an ideal job for students to pay off their university costs. Most of the time they can be on line studying or "attending" lectures on line. Lots of time for study, a bit of physical effort every now and then to help keep them fit and with a bed in the back, could also save a fortune on rent. Win, win, win :-)

  13. wiggers

    Who pays?

    Why is the taxpayer coughing up for this? If there's a financial advantage then surely it will be funded by the truck manufacturers' R&D departments.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who pays?

      There's no advantage to truck makers - the additional sales price will be offset by additional complexity and warranty costs, possibly plus higher liability insurance. The claimed fuel savings could benefit customers, but would again be offset by the costs of the additional kit, so for the small savings that are likely, neither truck makers nor customers really want the technology enough to pay for it. Note as well that the first truck in the convoy males zero savings. How will that work with multiple operators - the savings will all disappear if you keep rotating the vehicles?

      As usual, a stupid idea, picked as a winner by government bureaucrats and idiot politicians.

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Positive externality

        Iff it reduces congestion, it will benefit other road users, as well as reducing spending on building and widening roads. Iff it reduces pollution, there's benefit to the people living near the road and it will, over time, reduce the costs of healthcare associated with breathing conditions.

        So we can consider the narrow, selfish interest of individuals agents or the wider interests as the system as a whole.

        1. wiggers

          Re: Positive externality

          Yes there are externalities, but it not for the government to arrive at a technical solution. To reduce congestion you introduce road pricing. To reduce pollution you legislate for emissions. Spending tax-payers' money on something they think might be a solution isn't the way to do it.

          1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

            Re: Positive externality

            "To reduce congestion you introduce road pricing."

            We have such a system: it's called fuel duty.

            Making it reflect the true cost of motoring would probably be economic suicide. It would likely price poor people out of cars, with the reduction in car sales and job losses in garages. It may be that "public" transport couldn't pick up the slack---outside the cities, there are plenty of places I can't get by train, bus or walking---so labour may dry up for a whole bunch of firms. And it would definitely drive inflation and make our goods more uncompetitive on the international stage.

            But even if it did make economic sense, it's politically infeasible. We have said, as a society, we do not want motoring to reflect the true costs. We want the government to find other solutions.

            Any anyway we're not, as far as I understand it, we're not giving this money to firms. We are spending money on testing to see whether it is safe, and what the legal parameters should be. That's not something that can be delegated to private firms; part of the legislative process is to research what is safe.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Positive externality

              "We have such a system: it's called fuel duty."

              This!!!!! It really pisses me off when people talk about road pricing. We already pay an annual fee for permission to use the roads (VED) then we pay per mile in fuel duty, which generally keeps going up year on year anyway. It even has a self-limiter built in in that if people want to pay less, they drive more efficiently and take a little longer getting there. And not forgetting that the tax we pay on fuel (fuel duty) is itself including in the fuel cost for VAT purposes, ie we get taxed on the tax we pay! Adding tolls or per mile "road pricing" would be a real kick in the balls for all drivers. Every time a politician gets up and talks about road pricing without promising to abolish fuel duty, I just want to punch them in the face!

              Also, not forgetting that the vehicles that cause the most wear and tear on the roads are the HGVs who use more fuel and pay more, as well as the idiots doing 80-90 down the motorways who see their own self importance as being more valuable than the 30mpg they are getting. Fuel duty IS per mile road pricing. No special technology or GPS devices needed.

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Positive externality

              "We have such a system: it's called fuel duty.

              Making it reflect the true cost of motoring would probably be economic suicide. It would likely price poor people out of cars"

              Beari in mind that the true cost of road damage is proportional to the 5th power of the axle weight combined with the 2nd power of velocity.

              A 10 ton bus carrying 45 passengers does at least 1000 times more damage than a car carrying one (or 45 cars carrying one person), as many municipalities have discovered to their charagin when pushing public transport. Road damage done by cars is effectively non-existent.

              If fuel duty and road user charges reflected the true costs of motoring, hauliers would be out of business very quickly.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Positive externality

          Iff it reduces congestion, it will benefit other road users, as well as reducing spending on building and widening roads.

          If you watch trucks, you'll find they already moving in pods, because the better truck drivers know there's no time saving in overtaking, but lots more stress, and by slipstreaming they reduce their fuel use. You'll see a few tightwad car drivers doing the same - tucking in behind a briskly moving high HGV, and you'll get about 33% better fuel economy, at the risk of more stone chips.

          So formalising the existing slipstreaming of trucks adds a lot of complexity, for bugger all real world advantage. Typical of the ideas of climate-saving politicians.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Positive externality

            "You'll see a few tightwad car drivers doing the same - tucking in behind a briskly moving high HGV, and you'll get about 33% better fuel economy, at the risk of more stone chips."

            Company car driver here. Don't give a toss about stone chips, but quite happy to make a "profit" out of the mileage allowance by getting better mpg than the break-even point at the cost of getting home 10-20 minutes later. Most months, my mileage claim works out to more than the total fuel cost so that's my private mileage paid for and some extra in my pocket :-)

        3. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Positive externality

          >Iff it reduces congestion

          Believe it or not, overnight when the majority of vehicles using the UK's motorway network are lorries, there is very little congestion - just ask TrafficMaster/RAC/Highways England they have the data...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    test tracks to determine things such as the best distance between vehicles.

    Everyone knows its 1m from the vehicle in front, especially if the traffic is going less than 55mph

    No joke as this is how many of the wankers drive.

  15. Hairy Spod

    its hard enough to see the roadsigns at the side of the motorway in heavy but flowing traffic as it is, give large goods vehicles technology to allow them to drive closer together and the amount of people missing their junction will more than wipe out those CO2 gains

  16. samzeman
    Coat

    To solve the problem of the distances between the lorries, just put the one with the worst brakes at the front, and the one with the best at the back. Then they break formation when they brake from automation.

  17. Ol'Peculier

    Steering

    So if the lorries are squeezed up nose-to-tail, how on earth does anyone other than the leader know which direction to steer in?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So what happens when two convoys are overtaking each other with one doing 0.5mph more than the other ? You know its going to happen.....

  19. hatti

    Good braking

    I wonder what happens when a puppy suddenly runs out in front of convoy Lorry number 1.

    I do hope the software has allowed for this scenario

    1. Chris Jasper

      Re: Good braking

      What happens if God forbid a child manages to dash out in front of lorry number 3?

      1. Ben1892

        Re: Good braking

        children and puppies playing on motorways - erm ?

        1. Swiss Anton
          Childcatcher

          Re: Good braking

          "children and puppies playing on motorways - erm ?"

          Being pedantic I can say that I this has happened - 1978, southbound on the M5 near Taunton, Saturday, 2nd week in August. To be fair the traffic wasn't moving, and it hadn't done so for what seemed to be hours. BTW, I was 10 years old at the time, and the puppy was called Max.

  20. Scott Broukell

    "ways of making the lorries more efficient, saving fuel, lowering emissions and improving air quality"

    How about investment in electric lorries and green electricity production - just a thought. This platoon / convoy idea is not what UK road haulage either needs or wants from a user perspective, just a cheap means for those in office to brag about being 'Green' when it's a mere sticking plaster tinged with green. It's would seem an idea more suited to roads systems spanning millions of hectares of broad flat lands.

    1. wiggers

      You only invest in something if you think there will be a good chance of making a profit. This is why governments shouldn't be investing in things, they are pretty clueless about what might or might not work. Governments need to look out for the externalities. If you want less pollution then legislate for emissions limits. Don't try to second guess what technology might achieve those limits, let those with skin in the game (manufacturers) work it out.

      1. Scott Broukell

        @ wiggers - True, I should perhaps have said promote / push for, rather than imply that it would be solely up to the Government to do all the investing. As vehicle manufacturers have at last woken up to the development of electric / hybrid cars and lorries, one can only hope that with the right prodding they will take up the challenge and all rush in to take their market share in the new tech application of moving heavy stuff around. It's the Green electricity generation bit that needs a far far far greater push in the right direction, perhaps if vehicle manufacturers provide that growing vehicle investment, they will also put funds into generation. (No, too idealistic perhaps).

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "perhaps if vehicle manufacturers provide that growing vehicle investment, they will also put funds into generation. (No, too idealistic perhaps)."

          No, they'd be more likely to spend R&D money coming up with new and proprietary ways of charging the car so you can only use their charging points. It's not like there are any legally enforced standards, as Tesla have shown by installing multiple charging points just for their own customers, often more in number than the generic ones that everyone else has to use, especially at motorway services.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So rather than getting hit by one lorry I now get hit by three?

    You wait around for one then three come along at once...

  22. MAF
    FAIL

    A potential problem with this trial...

    The lorries will be driven by human drivers. Said drivers are at risk of reduced livelihood/jobs if it proves to be a success (and let's face it any sign of success and the bright spark who came up with it will push for use off major roads too).

    Why ever would they not do their very darnedest to banjax the trial?

  23. Red Ted
    FAIL

    Who gets the fuel savings?

    The idea, I presume, is that if you can run multiple lorries close together (using wireless to link the speed control) the first lorry is doing all the hard work of cutting a hole though the air, and the others then have lower drag.

    So there won't be a fuel saving for the first one and unless all the lorries belong to the same company there will be desire not to be the one at the front (I'll leave the reader to imagine how that one plays out on the motorway).

    If they all do belong to the same company, implying that a company sends multiple 44t HGVs along the same route at the same time, shouldn't they be investigating rail freight?

    1. PickledAardvark

      Re: Who gets the fuel savings?

      The aerodynamic drag on the first vehicle in a chain is reduced but not as much as for the second one. It is better to be followed than not followed -- unless you are in a racing car approaching the finishing line.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Who gets the fuel savings?

      "If they all do belong to the same company, implying that a company sends multiple 44t HGVs along the same route at the same time, shouldn't they be investigating rail freight?"

      To anyone proposing a rail route, remember one reason lorries are preferred over trains. Unlike trains, lorries can go the last mile. That's the thing about trucking convoys. Once each truck reaches its destination, it can break off to go that last mile.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Who gets the fuel savings?

        "Unlike trains, lorries can go the last mile"

        Ro-Ro rail wagons would solve that.

        Unfortunately it would require that Britain's rail tunnels and bridges all conform to the Berne Convention.

  24. Anonymous IV

    Two points

    1) This convoy is going to be implemented by wireless technology.

    What could possibly go wrong? :(

    2) Presumably the 'guard' in the cab of lorries 2..n can be paid the minimum wage since s/he will just be sitting there, admiring the rear of the lorry in front. No need for any driving skills or experience.

    And soon, like for trains, guards will no longer be necessary...

  25. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Given how badly lorries are driven now...

    ...one could think that the trials had started already and Siri was trying to teach Alexa and Cortana a lesson.

  26. Andytug
    Trollface

    Sooo....what's being proposed is for the same aerodynamic reason that cyclists travel nose to tail in groups? Will each wagon take a turn at the front? Will they drive two abreast so the drivers can chat to each other? Will truck drivers have to dress in Lycra and wear wraparound sunglasses? The mind boggles!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Will truck drivers have to dress in Lycra "

      Aaaaarrrgggghhhhh! Pass the mind bleach! Make mine a double!

  27. Dabooka Silver badge

    Less congestion? Greater efficiency?

    Try using the sodding rail network then, especially on an evening. Or good old fashioned coaster boats and ports.

    Rail network is virtually dormant overnight.

  28. chivo243 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Fiction becomes Reality?

    I just saw the Wolverine movie "Logan" and there was a scene with driverless lorries, and lots of near misses. I'm not sure I want to share the road with driverless platoons of these behemoths.

  29. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Stop

    Bullshit antennae are twitching ..

    There's an awful lot of noise here, but fuck all real detail.

    My first instinct is to note that unless and until the law is changed (and that won't happen anytime soon with Brexit clogging up the schedule) it would be illegal to allow a vehicle on our roads that is not under the DIRECT CONTROL of the driver.

    Yes, you can have all the gadgetry in the world. But until that pesky law is changed, it will be a human that takes the fall for anything bad.

    That's point #1.

    Point #2 is that lorries are subject to specific regulations regarding the time a driver spends driving and resting. Those regulations will still have to be respected, since (point #1) that's the law. And a driver "resting" while the other driver drives is not counting as resting.

    What is really happening, is that some lorries, fitted with "self driving" technology are going to be babysat by professionals who (I hope) have a very clear contract with their company.

    The fact that the UK press is hysterically reporting this uncritically as some sort of revolution is pathetic, but not unexpected.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Bullshit antennae are twitching ..

      I think you are looking too far into the future. This is a trial of a slightly more advanced networked adaptive cruise control. Each truck will still have and need a properly trained and licensed driver. It's a step change, not a paradigm shift and despite Brexit, the law is being adapted to take this trial into account such that it will be legal.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Theft and Highway Robbery

    Surely one major flaw is that a driverless vehicle is easily stopped by someone with a Transit van. Just get in the way a bit, force it to the hard shoulder, crack open the back and make off with a new washing machine, etc.

    Won't work with this trial, there's still drivers onboard. Forcing a manned vehicle off the road and stealing from it would be robbery, a conviction for which attracts a theoretical life sentence. Plus there'd be a dangerous driving charge, etc.

    But it's easy to coerce an unmanned vehicle to the side of the road, and with no one on board it's merely theft; much lighter sentence. And getting in the way of a self driving truck is unlikely to be an offence, otherwise absolutely everyone would count as "being in the way".

  31. Laura Kerr
    Devil

    My mischievous sense of humour...

    ... would compel me to hang a satellite dish over a motorway bridge and wave at the lead driver while brandishing a laptop.

  32. therebel

    All the focus seems to be on driverless cars and lorries. Surely driverless trains make much more sense. I know there's the DLR but the majority of the rest have drivers. If ever there was a vehicle that could easily be controlled safely with a computer it would be a train.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "Surely driverless trains make much more sense"

      It's almost at the point where for all intents and purposes trains _are_ driverless and the only reason there's someone up front is to hit the emergency brake when things go badly wrong.

      Even non-driverless trains have substantially complicated control systems to prevent overspeeding or SPADs(*) and in a lot of commuter trains the driver's only function is to work the doors and hit the "go" button.

      (*) Yes, spain showed what happens when there are uncontrolled sections but there are fewer and fewer of those every year and train controllers are supposed to watch every section remotely anyway.

  33. David Roberts Silver badge
    Alien

    SciFi dream

    This type of automated driving has been talked and written about for decades (probably a century or more).

    The end result seems pretty good; drive to your nearest motorway/freeway, link into the automated driving system, lean back and watch a movie or catch up on your sleep. Retake control at the junction closest to your destination, drive the last few miles, arrive rested and refreshed.

    Anyone driving towards London on the M4 in rush hour would probably relate to this as well. Relaxation not stress.

    However the intermediate stages are the fly in the ointment. Full automation requies a different level of infrastructure with a lot of design work around joining and leaving. It also has few if any benefits for short trips between motorway junctions. You might need a separate infrastructure for long haul automated travel to split out the local and short haul traffic.

    It seems to me that this is more suited to the toll roads in the European mainland and the massive long distance routes in the USA. Given that, you should be able, for instance, to drive from Bristol to Glasgow on such a system.

    I think this kind of early development is suitable for Government funding because I can't see this being a major manufacturing item in the next five years.

  34. PNGuinn
    Devil

    Logical conclusion

    The current idea's batsh*t crazy.

    For proof I offer that it's a greenie government scheme.

    So change it a tad so that, to the above it's a goer.

    1. More than 3 vehicles.

    2. Driver in the first vehicle. (for the moment, got to consider public opinion), but all vehicles ("identical "- must meet certain "Standards"). Others fully controlled by the first.

    3. Front vehicle to control all the others by secure* radio link.

    4. *Add that bit 'cos it'll reassure everyone.

    5. Internet connection essential.

    6. Well, because. Just do it. You never know when it'll come in handy.

    7. The CAN(t) bus'll have to come into it somewhere.

    8. Because. (See 6 above if you've got any technical doubts.)

    9. Build in an entertainment option. Because.

    10 ........

    Can anyone not see where this is leading?

    Assume that, for example, there was to be some slight interference with the signals.

    The rear starts to lorry drops back just slighty and looses contact with the one in front. At 59.999999 mph.

    Or the following lorries begin to drift out and in just ever to slightly.

    Or the third lorry suddenly thinks it's seen a fox. Or an elephant. And applies the emergency anchors. In the wet. On a bend.

    The opportunities for causing remote mayhem must be endless.

    From anywhere. Roll up, roll up, watch the carnage from the bridge or on the hacked surveillance camera system .....

  35. HKmk23

    Has nobody realised

    What they are calling a platoon of lorries is what we have been calling a railway train for years? Except the train is greener not having an engine for every carriage/wagon!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Has nobody realised

      But rail can't go the last mile. At least with truck convoys you don't have to deal with time-consuming mode changes.

  36. davidp231

    Remote controlled formation driving....

    So we can expect vehicle number 2 to fail for no apparent reason and go for a crash into the side of the road, resulting in Fireflash having to make its second approach with a replacement vehicle.

    1. EastFinchleyite

      FAB Scott.

  37. Outcast

    Are they going to mandate either the banning or compulsory use of Eco-Roll then ?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JVhdVoEHeQ

    Why Ban ?

    Because it's downright dangerous. Basically what happens is the truck shuts off power when it has climbed the hill by about 95% and uses kinetics to crest the hill and to return back to speed.

    Sounds clever doesn't it ?

    Until you realise that the truck you just powered by going uphill and who has just flashed you in has now had to stomp on the anchors because your wagon has gone into Eco-Roll right in front of him/Her and it's not fitted to theirs !

    Yes your roadspeed drops like the proverbial brick thrown in the air ! (With no brakes lights as you're not braking)

    Now lets add in that your company has disabled all manual functions of the automatic gearbox.

    ie: No Kickdown and no pre shifting down in readiness for that hill you know you're going to slow down on. How many following wagons do you think who CAN downshift in readiness and expect you to be doing the same suddenly find themselves up your ringpiece and looking to Get the heck out into Lane 2 pronto ?

    And now for Lane depart. Lol what a joke. We get false readings from the "now removed" Lick & Stick road studs from former roadworks and the Anti-Collision" brakes activate full braking when there's nothing there !

    I've been a Trucker for nigh on 33 years and I don't feel my job will be threatened by Tech for at least a decade yet !

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