Driverless lorries may be first automated tech on the road

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There’s a lot of ongoing discussion at the moment about what sort of driverless vehicles will hit British roads first. Will it be motorway only cars? Will it be automated shuttle systems at university campuses? What about autonomous taxis in city centres? While all of those are likely to arrive sometime in the next decade or so, the first implementation of driverless technology may actually be automated lorries.

While this is partly down to what companies are working on, it also makes sense in terms of the technology’s limitations. Since initially motorway driving will be the one aspect of the journey that the automation can handle without too much difficulty, it makes sense that lorries would implement it since that’s where they spend most of their time.

Initially and likely for some time to come, drivers will still be needed however, as someone will need to take over for the more complicated road networks and decisions, but for the most part the automation will be able to do their job for them, meaning that a driver will not need to be anywhere near as on the ball as they are now. In-fact, if well implemented, automated technology could allow the driver to catch some sleep when needed, meaning that the lorry only really needs to stop to fill up on fuel, making journeys more efficient and faster.

One day it may be that long-distance drivers aren’t required at all, as the technology can handle it themselves, but for now at least having someone behind the wheel feels like it might be a good idea, especially considering some of the dangerous and flammable chemicals and materials. Even if it’s just so there is someone on hand to blame if something goes wrong.

But this is all in the future right? Well, not exactly. Already British-American mining corporation Rio Tinto, already operates 50 self-driving trucks at its mines in Australia and Lockheed Martin has build a number of autonomous lorries for use in the US military, as per the BBC. While none of these vehicles are legal to use on roadways, their specific tasks away from the public allow them for quite effective usage.

Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration lorries seem likely to be the first wave of autonomous heavy goods vehicles, since they’re already been proven to drive themselves on motorways. They will be available within the next couple of years. However we won’t see fully autonomous vehicles like lorries and cars until the mid 2020s.

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.