Hands-free driving? EU set to trial multi-vehicle road trains


November 15, 2009

Road trains promise safe and efficient travel

Road trains promise safe and efficient travel

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Is there anything more monotonous than being stuck in a long line of traffic when you still have miles to go before your reach your destination? Wouldn’t it be great if you could relax and let somebody else do all the hard work? Well if all goes well with a European research project, that possibility might just become a reality. The Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project will look at linking a series of vehicles in a road train, controlled by a lead vehicle, with communication occurring via wireless sensors.

The SARTRE project has been partly funded under the European Commission's Framework 7 research plan and it is hoped the research will demonstrate shorter travel times, more fuel economy and less congestion. Early work suggests fuel savings could be as great as 20%. It is also expected that the research will indicate less accidents caused by driver fatigue and driver error.

So how does it work? Vehicles will be fitted with a navigation system and a transmitter and receiver which will be used to communicate with the lead driver. The lead vehicle will be driven by an experienced driver who knows the route. The lead driver will have full control over the vehicles within the road train. As a driver approaches the road train they will signal to the lead vehicle that they wish to join in, once accepted they will edge in behind the last vehicle. The lead vehicle will then take full control of the joining vehicle. To leave the convoy, a driver simply signals the lead driver, takes back control of the car and exits off to one side. The vehicles within the convoy close the gap and continue traveling.

There are a number of advantages a road train like this has. Firstly, it allows drivers to relax and tend to other business, such as reading the paper or working on a laptop. Secondly, there will be fuel savings because the cars in the train are close together so the lower air drag is lower than normal. Lastly, it should help to ease road congestion.

SARTRE will be led by Ricardo UK Ltd collaborating with Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia of Spain, Institut für Kraftfahrwesen Aachen (IKA) of Germany, and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, Volvo Car Corporation and Volvo Technology of Sweden.

"I do appreciate that many people feel this sounds like Utopia", says Erik Coelingh, technical director of Active Safety Functions at Volvo Cars. “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. In addition, we must carry out comprehensive testing to verify our high demands on safety."

The project began in September this year and is expected to run for three years with the first test cars equipped with this technology on test tracks as early as 2011.

Source: Ricardo UK, Volvo via BBC.


Sounds much like a 21st century wagon train from the olden times. \"Wagons Ho!\" I just wonder how much the Wagon Master will be charging for such.


Great! So if the lead driver makes a mistake (which will happen eventually, no matter how \"skilled\" he or she is), or has an equipment failure, or has to make a sudden maneuver to avoid some idiot who isn\'t part of the \"train,\" we have dozens, maybe more, cars scatter all over the road side.

What happens if one of the cars being controlled has a flat, and can\'t execute the maneuver being attempted by the lead driver? What happens if an uncontrolled car crashes into the middle of the train? Who is liable if someone dies in a crash with the \"train\"?

Thank you very much, but I don\'t want my car being controlled by someone 100 or more meters ahead, who has no visibility into what\'s happening back where I am. This idea doesn\'t seem well thought out at all.


I have been dreaming of this type of thing for years. A mechanical or magnetic link between cars could make this idea a reality right now. I will be on board with this as soon as it is available.

With reaction times of computers and new advances in sensors this technology will be safer then best drivers. Especially in emergency situations such as tire blowouts or when \"uncontrolled\" cars crash into you or a train of cars.


Thanks "bobmeyerweb", for a second there I thought this was just some untested technology being put into action tomorrow. Good thing it's just a concept not even being considered as implementable for commercial use until 3 years from now.

It's one thing to be skeptical, another to be ignorant. You'd of probably said the same mindless stuff about auto-pilot.

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