Highways England (HE), together with the Balfour Beatty, Skanska and Costain joint venture, is trialing the use of self-driving trucks to speed up construction work on the UK’s biggest road upgrade.
The autonomous trucks are currently being tested by HE and its delivery partners on the A14 improvement scheme between Cambridge and Huntingdon. The self-driving dump trucks, which move huge amounts of earth, have the potential to work around the clock, so could help reduce the length of time roadworks are on the ground. Being autonomous, they also reduce the risk of road workers being involved in incidents on site. Dump trucks are used to transport excavated soil to fill large areas on construction sites. Previously tried and tested in Australia, the autonomous dump truck is now being trialed in a controlled environment on the A14 project. The truck is programmed remotely to follow a pre-determined route and has the capability to detect and avoid obstacles and other vehicles along the route as it drives.
HE has committed £150,000 (US$196,000) from its innovation designated fund into the A14 dump truck trial. The designated funds provide protected money that enable HE to provide environmental, social and economic benefits to the people, communities and business alongside the Strategic Road Network (SRN) both now and in the future. Once testing on the £1.5bn (US$1.9bn) A14 project is complete, HE hopes to adopt the technology to modernize UK construction sites, although it is expected to be another two or three years before autonomous dump trucks are in full operation.
“We’re increasingly looking to technological advances to help us safely bring improvements to drivers on England’s motorways and major A roads,” explained Julian Lamb, HE’s deputy project director for the A14 upgrade. “Road construction has changed massively over the years and the testing of trucks such as these promises to allow us to work efficiently, speeding up roadworks, giving more protection to road workers, and moving jobs to other skilled areas. The trial we are leading with our partner CA Blackwell will enable the construction industry as a whole to be in a more informed position to make key decisions about autonomy on UK construction sites.”
Niall Fraser, director of earthworks services supplier CA Blackwell, said, “We are delighted to have received the backing of Highways England and their Designated Funds grant for this trial and are grateful for the support and commitment of our technology providers in making it a reality.”