Critics say that the transport of goods by road damages the environment, because of the high levels of pollution and high fuel consumption. Researchers in Sweden are testing a technology to reduce these effects. If the tests are favourable it could change the way lorries use our roads, and the way distribution systems work.
The Swedes are testing “intelligent vehicles”, which go along roads like a sort of train; forming convoys of evenly-spaced vehicles in a chain. There are experiments with cars underway using a similar technology.
The trucks are able to communicate between each other and automatically find their position on the road. The objective is that several trucks could line up behind each other just like skiers or cyclists do to reduce air friction. This could save as much as 10 percent of fuel costs.
“There will be space to get in between the trucks; we are considering gaps of between 15-25 meters. So you will be able to get in between and you will be able to pass if you are going fast enough. The system will sense the approaching car and slow down to make the gap a little bigger,” says head of research Tony Sander.
The computers control all the pedals, and the trucks can steer themselves. So what will the drivers do? Like pilots with autopilots, they will still supervise and maintain control of the system.
So would it not be simpler just to use trains? Experts answer that they have taken the advantages of trains and moved them out onto the roads.
“The train is very good for some types of transport, but it’s not very flexible. Very long trains take a long time to load and unload. Here trucks can join and leave the caravan while it is still moving along the motorway,” says Sandberg.
The vehicles, according to researchers, are entering the final stages of development and could be operational next year on Swedish highways.