Road trains may be coming soon to Europe (w/ Video)

November 13, 2009 by Lin Edwards, weblog

( -- Road trains linking vehicles together in a traveling convoy are planned for Europe. With only the lead vehicle being actively driven, the road trains would allow commuters to sleep, read a book or watch TV, or anything else they fancy as they drive to work.

A research project financed by the EU's Framework 7 plan looked at ways to reduce the cost of traveling along European highways and has suggested the idea of a "road train" that could link up to eight vehicles to a lead vehicle by wireless sensors. The vehicles could be any mix of cars, trucks or buses, but the project focuses on commuters traveling long distances to work. The project is named Sartre, for Safe Road Trains for the Environment.

Early results suggest linking the vehicles and having them travel close together could reduce fuel consumption by around 20% for all the vehicles except the leader. Traveling as a group could also result in a reduction in travel time, fewer accidents and less congestion on the roads. Relaxing, or even sleeping on the way to work could also cut out the stress of driving.

A professional driver (such as a bus or truck driver) in the leading vehicle would be charged with steering and controlling the convoy and monitoring its members. Drivers of the other vehicles could relax, since the leader would be controlling their vehicle.

Co-ordinator of the project, Tom Robinson of British Consultancy firm Ricardo, told the BBC that each vehicle joining the road train would have its own control system, communications equipment, and software monitoring system, but the lead vehicle would monitor the entire road train. Vehicles would be able to join by stating their destination and using their navigation system to locate the nearest road train. They could leave it whenever they wished, by signalling the lead vehicle, and then taking control of their own .

It should be possible to use readily available components to enable vehicles to link up to the road train, and changes to the roads should not be necessary.

The Sartre project will be tested for about three years once the preliminary research on the elements required and on the safety issues is completed. Robinson said that the first platoon of two trucks and three cars will be tested on special tracks in Sweden, the UK, and Spain. Later tests will probably also be carried out on public roads in Spain.

According to Volvo, the first prototypes of the road train could be tested within a couple of years.

© 2009

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1 / 5 (4) Nov 13, 2009
The biggest problem I came up when I thought this was a good idea a few years back was malicious users. Basically anyone who drives buy could hack the system and send these cars flying off the road, or worse into traffic.
1 / 5 (5) Nov 13, 2009
It feels pretty lame and I cannot see this becoming a reality...
By somehow physically linking them together would be a real thing. Then the other vehicles would reduce fuel consumption by 100%. And ofcourse we already have this sort of thing, but with damaged cars.
2.5 / 5 (4) Nov 13, 2009
What happens at bends and such?
I guess this would only work on motorways/highways. Surely getting cars driving on their own automatically is the first step before making them drive together automatically.
4.1 / 5 (8) Nov 13, 2009
Why do people keep asking 'what if' with computer controlled sytems as if any problem can not be immediately addressed by software updates? It is time to recover from self-induced, techno myopia/phobia. The first internet connection crashed 40 years ago before it finished sending the word 'Login'. The digital transmission only made it to 'Log...' before aborting. Why didn't the internet end then? They fixed the software. Certainly 'hackers' might disrupt the system, that's why we have firing squads. Hackers couldn't possibly do more road damage than 2 billion drivers 'texting'. Grow up and stop posting like a 14th Century Vatican flat earth zealot.
3 / 5 (6) Nov 13, 2009
Anybody smart enough to hack and derail a road train, wouldn't. Shooting other drivers is easier, but there aren't many that sick people around.

Making a car to "follow that car" is way easier than making a car that drives by itself. That's why such road trains are doable already. But to productize them, convince investors and law makers, that's what takes a few years.
5 / 5 (3) Nov 13, 2009
With those cars following so close to each other, it would follow that if the first vehicle gets into an accident at highway speeds, ALL the vehicles will crash at that speed. Not much different than a normal non-computer accident, but who would voluntarily drive that first vehicle knowing they'd be liable? The system needs to be 100% autonomous for this to take off
Nov 13, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
4.8 / 5 (4) Nov 13, 2009
lol, i am european, but i don't know if making the leader a single point of failure multiplied by ten followers, is a good approach, if we ever get road trains i'd rather see them fully automated, like some norwegian proposal of dynamically hooking your car into fast electric monorail system for long hauls/main arteries and offhook/continue the journey in rural areas on traditional road/free steering. Besides the monorails guiding/traffic system each car should have intelligence to do emergency stops etc. to prevent monorail acting as single failure point.
3 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2009
Heh...I'd not hack these vehicles to go off the roead,. I'd hack them to follow a different car to a different destination ;-)

But seriously: what happens when the first car gets in an accident. Do we automatically get an 8 car pileup?

While it may even be statistically provable that this system is afer than driving on your own I bet it will be a hard sell psychologically. I'd rather take (worse) chances driving myself than just being a statistic.
3 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2009
This makes a lot of sense despite the obvious technical hurdles that will have to be overcome.

I also envision that this will be a pre-cursor to a version comprised entirely of mass transit vehicles, like diesel-electric "Bus-Trains"
3 / 5 (1) Nov 13, 2009
These would only be useful if your going a long distance I would think. But yea just seems like its asking for trouble.
2.5 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2009
And I just realized that the bottom-most illustration has the dude driving with a laptop, seemingly using THAT to guide him into the "train". Safety was apparently not a key issue when the marketing team started brainstorming ideas
1 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2009
Mixed solutions between AI and human control will never work properly with road traffic, simply because even if you have the best software there is, there will still be that ONE moron who is king of the road and drives like a jackass, that turns you and the "train" following you into a huge lump of scrap metal.

The best solution for the future in regards to highway driving is an autonomous full-AI system that the driver will be OBLIGATED to hook up to when entering the highway.

But hey, who will get mister Ferrari to give up doing the cross-country ski on the highway at 150mph?
3 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2009
Persuading people to give up personal control of their own vehicle will be the biggest hurdle.
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 14, 2009
Could the leading vehicle decide its time to end their life and pull with them the entire convoy? lol
4.5 / 5 (2) Nov 14, 2009
I think it's a good idea. Even if the vehicles are following close to each other, a computer can react and brake MUCH faster than a human would. Which means that in case of an accident, you'd probably be just as safe having the computer engage the brakes than if you were to do it yourself.
5 / 5 (1) Nov 14, 2009
Well, if the first one hits that sheet of ice (or that deep puddle) - and you are all so close together - this will not end well. Even computers don't brake well on ice. And in those cases I'd rather have a few dozen meters between me and the guy in front of me.

Defensive driving means that you always expect the unexpected (i.e. you always give yourself romm (which equals time) to react. With road trains that time is not given. Computers cannot react well to the unexpected (and oftentimes react in a much worse way than humans do)
3 / 5 (1) Nov 14, 2009
You don't really need to be that close together for the slipstream effect to take place. I am certain the distance is calculated based on how long it would take for an average car to come to a complete stop. And having that large thing in front is like following a semi truck. In case of it hitting anything, it would plow right through and clear the way for the cars behind, kind of akin to the whole slipstream idea.
4 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2009
i thought this idea up like 10 years ago, it's obvious to any cyclist that has ever drafted in a peleton. the problem with peletons is tht it requires very very close attention of the riders to negotiate riding in a drafting line without creating an accident.

could driving programs on cars do this? automatically?
i'll tell you i would not trust an autopilot program without having at least a built in functionality that allows me to take control at any instant.
to begin with, i'd feel much more comfortable easing into using an automated pilot slowly, as in putting it in control for a few mintues at a time and monitoring it.

finally, i think an accompanying digital display that shows you the dynamic reduction in real time air-resistance achieved by your current position in the train would help the driver not only accept and embrace the technology but help generate enough enthusiams in the driver to help market the device by word of mouth.

3 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2009
A driver can recognize ice ahead on the road. An automatic system? Not in all cases. So you'll be sitting in your car like a a stupid passenger just waiting to hit that patch of ice when all 8 of you then slither off the road into a glorious heap of piled up wreckage. No thanks.

Even if you are given the possibility of intervening: you are then packed into a tight train of vehicles with very little room to maneouver.

Such a system would be great if it were on rails. But on roads with road conditions being subject to change on short/no notice? (flash rain, sudden overfreezing of moisture, ...). I wouldn't feel safe.
not rated yet Nov 15, 2009
All this and yes..but would Jean Paul approve? That is the question.
3 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2009
Why do people keep asking 'what if' with computer controlled sytems as if any problem can not be immediately addressed by software updates? It is time to recover from self-induced, techno myopia/phobia.

LOL. People always resist new and unfamiliar thing

I don't think anyone in the world knows whether this concept will work, unless some real life trials are made. The data should speak for itself.

If data from a pilot program shows reduction in accident statics and improvement in passenger-mile-per-gallon metric, then we'll know. But I think it's important that we find out.
5 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2009
Have a train in parallel to the highway with appropriate stops and let the train be the hauler of the cars. Less chance of any accidents.
If a train system is too costly to build, use a big bus that accommodates the passengers and hauls the cars physically. At pre-destined stops, the cars are detached/attached.
not rated yet Dec 01, 2009
I think this is an awsome idea. Ive also thought of something similar while back. The lead car would have to have many sensors so it can monitor the road better then a naked eye ever could. Sensors can see accidents or potention problems sooner then a human could and then make appropiate changes. I also think that a manual override is just as important. The thought of being able to sit back while you are "trained" to your exit would help out a lot of people. Imagine all the bad divers out there being pilled into one train and having all of those bad habits disappear from the highways. Of course with every new technology people will not like it, and there will be crashes. But look at airplanes, they are almost fully automatic and the pilot really does very little in actually flying the machine.

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