Driverless lorries will take to UK roads later in 2016 as part of an initiative to improve road efficiency. According to reports, Chancellor George Osborne will announce the trials in his Budget speech in March.
According to the Times, the road test will see convoys of up to 10 vehicles put to the test on quiet stretches of the M6 motorway in Cumbria. Each convoy will be led by a manned vehicle that will set the pace and steering of the fleet, while each computer-controlled lorry will contain a driver who will be able to take over control of the vehicle in case of an emergency.
The UK government's Department for Transport hopes to find out whether driverless heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) can improve delivery efficiency and cut congestion. Meanwhile, by travelling together in groups, it is thought that fuel consumption can be improved by allowing each vehicle to "draft" behind the one in front, with the lead lorry reducing 'drag' for each subsequent vehicle.
A Department for Transport spokesperson could not provide a timetable for the scheme or confirm where the trials would take place, but said: "New technology has the potential to bring major improvements to journeys and the UK is in a unique position to lead the way for the testing of connected and driverless vehicles.
"We are planning trials of HGV platoons – which enable vehicles to move in a group so they use less fuel – and will be in a position to say more in due course."
Others have speculated whether such a scheme would work on UK roads as it could create difficulties for other drivers trying to move on and off the motorway. Meanwhile, the biggest challenge remains overcoming public scepticism towards driverless technology, something that recently suffered a small setback when a driverless Google car collided with a public bus in California.
Paul Watters, the head of roads and transport policy for the AA, told the BBC: "Motorists will certainly be very nervous about the prospect and will need considerable reassurance that it will be safe. Motorways are pretty congested in the UK, they are about the most congested in Europe, and there will be problems in how they access and exit the roads."
Driverless buses are also being planned for parts of the United Kingdom, with a number of major operators already in talks to produce them. At the same time, the UK government is looking to make self-driving cars and delivery drones a reality under its new digital strategy.