A fleet of driverless trucks made its debut in Japan, staying in formation on the road and demonstrating they can save fuel while they do it.
The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), a public research and development group, rolled out four trucks, and only the lead vehicle had a driver.
The trucks saved fuel because they stayed close enough to each other to take advantage of the slipstream effect, where the truck ahead reduces the amount of air resistance the one behind has to plow through.
To keep the trucks in formation, on-board computers and cameras were programmed to recognize the white lines on the road, communicate with the other trucks and control their speed.
Radar and infrared lasers on each vehicle scanned the area for obstacles to avoid.
The speeds were kept relatively modest, at about 50 miles per hour, and the trucks traveled about four yards apart. That’s far enough that if the truck ahead hit the brakes the one behind could stop in time — the on-board computers allowed it to respond in 20 milliseconds.
While they won’t be on the roads immediately – the test run was on a simple oval track – NEDO was able to prove that driverless trucks can work and hopes to have something on the road by 2020. If the trucks work as planned on the road it could mean a 15 percent fuel savings for the trucking industry, along with a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.