Auto-driving trucks on Japanese roads in 3 years time.

The Japanese government aims to have columns of synchronized driverless vehicles following a human-operated one on a major highway in fiscal 2020 — an innovation expected to relieve shortages of truck drivers.

The concept is known as platooning. The autonomous vehicles in the convoy keep in contact wirelessly with the lead vehicle, applying acceleration and brakes as needed to maintain appropriate distances.

The hope is that such technology would help Japan’s logistics sector cope with chronic shortages of truckers. Traffic congestion, often caused by variances in brake timing and slowdowns on mild hills, would also be alleviated.

The government envisions the convoys traveling on the Shin-Tomei Expressway, which runs part of the way between Tokyo and Nagoya. A dedicated lane starting from an interchange or rest area would likely be created.

Isuzu Motors and Hino Motors are already jointly developing an intelligent transportation system essential to platooning. Germany’s Daimler, meanwhile, is working on its own networked trucks, aiming to introduce them to the market in 2025.

The Japanese road tests could start as early as fiscal 2018. The government’s IT strategy office, industry ministry and transport ministry will hammer out such details as the section of the road and time of the day starting in the spring.

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