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How quickly will platooning technology meet SAE level 5 expectations?

Slowly, but surely, autonomous driving technologies are getting closer to deployment on the road, with the latest instalment being the news that platooned HGVs will be trialled in the UK in 2018.

Predictably, objections have already been raised to the idea of HGV convoys on the UK’s motorways – because that’s where they’ll be deployed for the foreseeable future.

You can see the appeal of platooning to hauliers; as long as they operate enough vehicles to make it sensible. Apart from only needing one driver, platooning is expected to bring better fuel economy. And platooning should, in theory, allow trucks to run very close together, leaving more room for other road users.

One interesting issue is the balance between getting the technology into broad use as quickly as possible and safety. No surprise that the Government is erring on the side of caution. For example, the trial will be limited to three HGVs and are likely to take place over night. The trials will also avoid so called ‘pinch points, including tolls, bridges, road works and areas with lane width restrictions. And the trials won’t take place in extreme weather conditions.

The challenge for HGVs and cars alike is to make autonomous technology that conforms with the expectations of SAE Level 5 – ‘the full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions’.

There would appear to be few benefits to hauliers of systems that don’t meet Level 5 requirements and, despite some impressive demonstrations, that still appears to be some way off.

Graham Pitcher

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