Driverless delivery van trials in London?

There has been much PR and publicity over the idea of flying drones delivering goods to customers. What is more probable and economically viable is the idea of driverless vans delivering goods to customers, and reports over the weekend suggest that a trial by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) is likely to take place in the coming months in East London.

There is currently a trial of driverless vehicles in Greenwich under the GATEway project, that tests the use of autonomous vehicles in an urban environment. After a number of years in this relatively small test area, sources from the TRL have indicated that this will be expanded across parts of East London to see a less well known urban environment than that of Greenwich, allowing greater range for the delivery vans.

The UN Vienna Convention on road transport expressly forbids driverless vehicles, though the the Treaty has been interpreted to allow a vehicle to drive itself while being monitored by a human sitting in the cab. They will effectively sit and be alert while being driven by the van to the next destination. They would then deliver the packages the last few metres from the vehicle to the customer.

Royal Mail’s chief executive Moya Greene said at a CBI event in November that: “We can probably see a day when we’re going to have driverless trucks.” Technology is very much capable of getting driverless delivery vans from A-B and the economies are there to be made by saving on the cost of the driver. However, international law needs to be changed to permit the driver to be taken out of the equation. The law it seems, is likely to be harder to change than the technology though the Netherlands in their presidency of the EU in the coming year will be looking into tackling the legal hurdle at a supranational level.