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UK launching $10.4M road trial of truck platooning

The UK Department for Transport (DfT) and Highways England has commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) to lead the first real-world operational trial of platooning vehicles on UK roads. The £8.1-million (US$10.4 million) trial will see TRL lead a consortium of partners including DAF Trucks; Ricardo, which worked with TRL to deliver a HGV Platooning feasibility study for the DfT in 2014; and DHL.

The platooning trials will see up to 3 heavy goods vehicles, traveling in convoy, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle. All trucks in the platoon will always have a driver ready to take control at any time.

Platooning involves two or more vehicles connected with vehicle to-vehicle communication, allowing them to communicate with each other and to operate as a single unit. The lead vehicle takes control of the speed and direction of all the vehicles in the platoon, when the lead vehicle brakes the following vehicles automatically brake with zero reaction time significantly increasing road safety. The constant controlled speed delivers fuel savings and environmental benefits through the reduction of CO2 emissions, while the ability to decrease the distance between vehicles increases road network capacity.

Project partners:

  • TRL: The overall project lead and research partner, responsible for project and risk management.

  • DAF: OEM partner and UK market leader for commercial trucks, responsible for supplying vehicles to be used in the project.

  • Ricardo: Technology partner and global engineering, strategic and environmental consultancy.

  • DHL: Leading logistics provider in the UK, will be providing drivers and freight deliveries for the trials.

  • Transport Systems Catapult: Research partner, will contribute to technical trial design and data analysis.

  • Millbrook: Test partner, will provide the test track facilities for the off-road platoon testing.

  • TNO: Currently leading the Dutch Truck Platooning Trials and will provide reciprocal representation on both the UK and Dutch Advisory Groups.

  • Costain: A strategic partner to Highway England with in-depth knowledge of the strategic road network.

  • Apollo Vehicle Safety: Research partner, will provide knowledge and expertise on vehicle safety.

Applying experience gained in platooning projects in Europe and the USA, the project will collect information and independently evaluate heavy vehicle platooning under real-world operational conditions. Trials will be tailored to the unique requirements of UK roads and will collate the evidence required to understand issues such as fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, safety, acceptance by drivers and other road users, implications for future infrastructure, and the commercial case for adoption.

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. 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.

—Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England Chief Executive

The trial will be carried out in 3 phases, with the first focusing on the potential for platooning on the UK’s major roads. Initial test track based research will help decide details such as distance between vehicles and on which roads the tests could take place.

The on-road trials will form part of regular DHL logistical operations and are expected to take place in 2018. Each phase of the testing will only begin when there is robust evidence that it can be done safely.

The HGV Platooning project adds to TRL’s growing program of innovation into future transport and mobility solutions, focused on (i) highly-automated, self-driving vehicles; (ii) intelligent, connected infrastructure and vehicles; (iii) low carbon technologies and electrification; and (iv) shared mobility services.

Today TRL, together with its partners, has an active portfolio of autonomous, connected, electric and shared mobility projects totalling in excess of £50m. These include GATEway, MOVE_UK, Atlas, Driven, Streetwise and DRAGON.


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