An experiment in which self-driving trucks crossed Europe has paved the way for adoption of the technology ahead of a crucial meeting of EU transport ministers this week.
The technique, known as “ platooning”, is key for the future of the industry as it can save fuel and allow for more efficient use of the roads.
The road trip, which ended last week in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, was the first time the technology had been tested on public roads.
The trucks communicate with wireless technology, allowing them to brake and accelerate together.
They can therefore drive much closer together, cutting down wind resistance and therefore fuel use.
“The technology is clearly there,” said Erik Jonnaert, secretary-general of the ACEA, the European Motor Manufacturers’ Association. “Every manufacturer has proved that.”
He said the focus was now on transport authorities to work together to provide regulations that will allow the convoys to cross borders and operate across the continent.
“The regulatory barriers are still enormous . . . if you want to turn this project into something that has become mainstream,” he said.
EU transport ministers are meeting this week in Amsterdam for a two-day conference on the future of transport and logistics.
They will look at results of the truck platooning challenge as part of the programme.
“The results of this first ever major tryout in Europe are promising,” said Melanie Schultz, the Dutch minister for Infrastructure and the Environment who spearheaded this initiative.
“It will certainly help my colleagues and I discuss the adjustments needed to make self-driving transport a reality.”
Driverless trucks are expected to be allowed on European roads by the end of the decade.
The UK will trial these platoons later in the year with the Department for Transport expected to tender as soon as this month.
Logistics companies could save €1.6bn annually in fuel costs from platooning, according to calculations from Dr Lori Tavasszy, professor of freight transport and logistics at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
The technique could also have far-reaching consequences for the use of the road networks, as well as areas that handle large amounts of freight, such as port terminals.
Companies that transport vast amounts of product, such as retailers and consumer goods groups, will also be likely to benefit.
“The European Truck Platooning Challenge has been a huge success,” said Harrie Schippers of DAF Trucks, speaking on behalf of the Commercial Vehicle Board of ACEA.
“It has fostered much-needed co-operation, facilitated cross-border driving and encouraged compatibility on legal and technical issues.”
He added: “Harmonisation is now needed if we want a widescale introduction of platooning.”
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