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The Bulletin

Japan's driverless trucks to cut fuel consumption

Posting in Energy

Uh-oh. There's no one driving this truck. Will it avoid the broken down car ahead of it? Click the first video below to find out.

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Self-driving cars? Child's play!

Japan has tested a small fleet of driverless trucks, Phys.org reports. The idea is that if you keep a convoy running at a constant speed in a perfectly straight line at exactly the same distance apart, then you create a slipstream that reduces drag and adds significant fuel efficiency.

Four trucks, one driver, and a lot of electronics.

That's what the country's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) did recently.

It ran three unmanned trucks at 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph) behind one truck piloted by a human. Each vehicle remained 4 meters (13 feet) from the next one.

NEDO thinks that such technology can decrease fuel consumption by at least 15 percent. But the Phys.org story does not report fuel results from the trial, so perhaps the homo sapiens-light formation didn't yield the hoped for energy savings. But NEDO will try again soon. It plans more tests later this year.

"NEDO hopes to have a practical version of this automated driving system ready around 2020," the story notes.

The trucks used a combination of milliwave radar, infrared laser radar and cameras to detect obstacles and white lines. They communicated with each other via wireless technologies including infrared. Two printed circuit boards helped maintained the caravan's formation.

Industrial and academic partners in the project include Mitsubishi Electric, NEC, Oki Electric Industry, Denso, Hino Motors, the University of Tokyo and Nihon University.

Video from the driverless seat:

Wherever wheels are rolling, there's barely a driver in town:

Images: Videos are from responsejp via YouTube. Photos are screen grabs from the videos.

Take a ride on the driverless highway via many SmartPlanet stories. Here are just a few:

— By on March 3, 2013, 8:38 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure