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Highways England trials self-driving trucks for roadworks

A pilot is aimed at reducing project timescales and increasing worker safety, though vehicles are expected to take another two to three years to be fully operating

Highways England (HE) is testing autonomous trucks to reduce the amount of time spent on roadworks.

The £150,000 pilot, carried out in partnership with earthworks services firm CA Blackwell, entails use of a self-driving truck on HE’s improvement of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, and is also intended to reduce the risk of site incidents to road workers.

The self-driving dump truck, used to transport excavated soil to fill large areas, is being used in a controlled environment on the A14 site. It is programmed remotely to follow a pre-determined route and can detect and avoid obstacles and other vehicles along the route as it drives.

“The trial will enable the construction industry as a whole to be in a more informed position to make key decisions about autonomy on UK construction sites,” said deputy project director at Highways England, Julian Lamb.

While reducing the time roadworks are on the ground and improving worker safety, there is also an implied possibility that the trucks could reduce the number of staff working on sites.

“Road construction has changed massively over the years and the testing of trucks such as these promises to allow us to work efficiently, speeding up roadworks, giving more protection to road workers, and moving jobs to other skilled areas,” said Lamb.

Once testing is complete, HE hopes to adopt the technology to modernise UK construction sites. In 2017, Highways England set out its ambitions for how digital technology will be used to support people’s journeys in the next few years.

The plan focuses on operations and maintenance, smart motorways and expressway upgrades, and proposes a series of “transformational investments” around technology including facilitating support for electric vehicles and connected autonomous vehicles.

However, the agency expects that will take another two to three years before autonomous dump trucks are fully operating.

A study by analyst Forrester for chipmaker Arm, looking at the development of autonomous vehicles, has reported that engineers believe the cost of the technology needed to support autonomous vehicles is too high.

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