EU to Trial "Road Train" Tech: Sensor-Enabled Automated Driving (Whoa!)

road-train1Picture this: You hop on Interstate 280 in San Francisco, close in on a line of cars, and then kick back and relax — taking your hands off the wheel and foot off the accelerator — until you get to Sand Hill Road half an hour later and opt to peel off from the group. That’s the experience that researchers in the EU are hoping to create within a decade, using vehicles outfitted with wireless sensors, a navigation system and a transmitter/receiver unit to communicate with the vehicle at the front of the line.

Backed by the European Commission, a research team led by Ricardo UK and dubbed SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) has launched a 3-year trial of this “road train” technology, in which a lead driver controls a convoy of up to seven wirelessly-linked vehicles, as part of an effort to slash fuel consumption by up to 20 percent per vehicle, reduce travel times and minimize congestion, the BBC reports.

SARTRE project coordinator Tom Robinson, of Ricardo UK (a firm that frequently provides consulting for vehicle intelligence projects), tells the BBC that eventually, drivers linking up with a platoon might pay a fee to the lead driver. Project partners at this point have yet to complete preliminary research, but by 2011 they plan to start testing the system on tracks in the UK, Spain and Sweden, as well as on public roadways in Spain, according to the BBC. Volvo (one of the project partners) says in its release about the project that the first track tests could begin as early as 2011.

Think it sounds a little — or a lot — “out-there?” Erik Coelingh, technical director of Active Safety Functions at Volvo, explains in the release about SARTRE, he can “appreciate that many people feel this sounds like Utopia. However, this type of autonomous driving actually doesn’t require any hocus-pocus technology, and no investment in infrastructure. Instead, the emphasis is on development and on adapting technology that is already in existence.” Yep, that’s our friendly silicon, chips, communication networks and information technology.

Graphics courtesy of Volvo


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