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Japan launches test of self-driving truck convoys

Labor-saving tech would let one driver direct multiple vehicles

The goal of the project is to roll out platoons of self-driving trucks led by a single human driver.

TOKYO -- Four truck manufacturers and a member of the Toyota Motor group on Tuesday began highway testing of mostly automated truck convoys, aiming to make transportation more efficient amid a chronic labor shortage in the logistics industry.

The tests involve groups of three 12-meter trucks, spaced about 35 meters apart, driving at 80kph on a stretch of expressway west of Tokyo. The vehicles are supplied by Hino Motors, Isuzu Motors, Volvo Group's UD Trucks and Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus -- a subsidiary of Germany's Daimler -- while trading house Toyota Tsusho is handling the project on behalf of entities including the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Though each truck in the test run has a human driver, the goal is to have entirely unmanned vehicles following one human-operated truck. The companies aim to reach this point in 2020 and bring the technology to market as early as 2022.

The trucks are equipped with cooperative adaptive cruise control, a system combining vehicle-to-vehicle communication with cameras and millimeter-wave radar that measures the distance between each truck and objects in front of it. This technology lets the vehicles quickly detect and respond to changes in speed, allowing for shorter following distances than would otherwise be safe, a concept known as platooning. The tighter spacing reduces air resistance, improving fuel efficiency.


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