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Road trains: Leave the driving to Sartre

An EU project aims to make road trains available for cars driving long distances.

Road train concept
In a road train, a lead vehicle controls slaved cars, letting the drivers work or relax. Ricardo Engineering

The latest research into allowing people not to drive comes from Europe, where the EU is funding a road train concept. A road train is a group of cars controlled by a lead vehicle. If you are on a long trip, your car might detect a road train going in your direction. You could then choose to join it, slaving your car to the lead vehicle. If a car wanted to leave the train, the gap between it and the other cars would be increased so it could safely exit. The lead vehicle would be operated by a professional driver, and include equipment designed to control the other cars. Along with drivers being able to work or relax while riding in a road train, each car would draft the one ahead, getting about 20 percent better fuel economy.

Existing technologies make road trains possible. Cars would use GPS to find out if a road train is near, while radar could determine the vehicles' following distance to each other. Electronic throttles and power steering units would allow the lead vehicle to control each car in the train. The EU is also looking into this concept because road trains are a less expensive means for achieving some degree of autonomous vehicle operation, rather than installing sensor infrastructures along the roads.

The concept is being developed by Ricardo Engineering, funded by the EU, with a project called Sartre (Safe Road Trains for the Environment). Test track trials will take place in Spain, the U.K., and Sweden.

Sartre may not be the most appropriate name for the project, as giving up control of your vehicle to a higher power doesn't exactly comport with existentialist philosophy.

(Source: BBC News)