Dutch plan for self-driving trucks could boost introduction of driverless cars

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -- A plan to allow self-driving trucks to deliver goods in the Netherlands could accelerate the introduction of driverless cars onto public roads.

Under a plan by a group of logistics and technology companies unveiled on Monday, trucks without drivers could begin delivering goods from Rotterdam, Europe's largest port, to other Dutch cities within five years.

The Netherlands is reviewing traffic laws to make large-scale testing of the technology possible on public roads, Infrastructure and Environment Minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen wrote to parliament in a letter outlining the plan.

Initial testing would start on computer simulations and the trucks will be tested on a closed track before ultimately driving out on public roads, her letter said.

"We really want to seek out international partners to see what we can do in this field," said Marianne Wuite, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment. "There are countless benefits. Self-driving cars need less space and therefore use asphalt more efficiently, they avert traffic jams and reduce accidents. They are also more environmentally friendly."

The goal is to make the technology commercially available within five years, according to one participant.

The Dutch proposal comes a month after Google said it was developing two-passenger, self-driving cars and hopes to have built 200 of the vehicles with two years.

The Netherlands, a densely populated country, has a highly advanced infrastructure and is home to Europe's fourth largest airport, while Rotterdam port is a major European logistics hub.

The application was submitted by a consortium including the industry group Transport and Logistics Netherlands, DAF Trucks, Rotterdam Port and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, or TNO.

No financial details were made available.

"We want to do the first demonstrations in the beginning of next year and roll out the trial in a controlled environment as soon as possible," said Bastiaan Krosse, a spokesman for TNO.

The road trial, involving two full-sized trucks driving in what is called a "platoon" with the second truck driverless, could happen in the Rotterdam Port, or on or at the A270, a motorway with advanced infrastructure in the southern Netherlands, he said. "The goal is to develop a reliable system over the next five years," Krosse said.

Similar experiments are underway in other European countries "but what makes this unique is that no other project has a hard target of bringing this to market within five years, with the backing of the government," he said.

A detailed proposal of where and how the trials will take place will be submitted to parliament after the summer, Schultz van Haegen wrote.

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