Road trains of driverless trucks may soon be charging along Australia's highways as new technology offers the potential for improved safety and enhanced fuel efficiency.
German automaker Daimler has announced that it will soon be testing its 'platooning' technology on roads in the U.S, allowing large digitally-connected trucks to save fuel by driving closely together, with one vehicle following the other.
The company said that the technology would be able to keep trucks and cargo moving without having to stop for mandated rest breaks, unleashing a "huge efficiency potential".
Essentially, one driver could control an entire line of trucks -- as reported by Japanese stock market index Nikkei's Asian Review, these trucks sit just a few metres apart, travel at a constant speed and present a streamlined profile that can mean fuel savings of up to 15 percent.
Australia is no stranger to driverless vehicles -- in 2015 two mining sites in the Pilbara became the first in the world to move all of their iron ore using fully remote-controlled trucks.
Earlier this year, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development Anthony Albanese said that while the transition to driverless trucks would take years, "it is critical that Governments start planning now" so that potential "negative effects" can be mitigated.
"One of our key concerns must be lifting investment in education and training to ensure that as driverless cars eliminate jobs performed by people, the workers are given skills to allow them to move to other jobs," he said.
Matrin Daum, Daimler's chief of commercial truck business, said that its still a "long way out" before regulations allow one driver to pilot a truck while drivers in the trucks behind sleep.
Being able to keep trucks and cargo moving without having to stop for mandated rest breaks "would unleash a huge efficiency potential," Daum said. "We don't have the technical solution yet."
Some companies, including Silicon Valley startup PelotonTechnology, are working on this technology. Peloton is working with several truck makers, including Volvo, on its platooning system, which it sees as a precursor to autonomous systems.
Tesla Inc, which has been a leader in developing self-driving technology for its luxury cars, is developing a long-haul, electric semi-truck that can drive itself and move in "platoons", Reuters reported last month.
(Additional reporting byArunima Banerjee in Bengaluru; editing by Arun Koyyur and Tom Brown)