UK to test self-driving trucks later this year

As many as 10 autonomous vehicles could follow each other down a stretch of the M6 motorway.

AP Photo/John Locher

Later this year, the UK will open up its motorways to self-driving trucks under new plans to speed up deliveries and cut traffic congestion. The Times reports that Chancellor George Osborne will confirm funding for the project, which could see convoys of up to 10 autonomous trucks -- or lorries as Brits call them -- driving a few meters apart, during this month's budget announcement, helping Britain position itself as one of the leading proponents of self-driving vehicles.

According to reports, a stretch of the M6 motorway near Carlisle has been touted as a possible testing ground. On this quieter part of the UK's major road network, a driver can lead a "platoon" of autonomous trucks without having to navigate various entry and exit points.

Although it's not known which vehicles will be tested on British roads, Daimler's autonomous truck is likely to be a frontrunner. The company has already driven an augmented Mercedes-Benz Actros down Germany's Autobahn 8 and also received the green light to test them on US roads.

The UK government is already putting the finishing touches to stretches of smart roads. Jaguar Land Rover, Huawei and Vodafone have joined various UK universities to test a number of self-driving car technologies, including LTE, Wi-Fi, LTE-V and DSRC. Another project in West Yorkshire uses infrared cameras to monitor traffic levels and introduce variable speed limits to help keep vehicles moving.

The Department of Transport believes the new test "has the potential to bring major improvements to journeys and the UK" and save fuel in the process. We'll learn more when George Osborne brings his red briefcase to the House of Commons on March 16th.