Cars that drive themselves. Oh, you Europeans.

In the post about the sustainable city in the UAE called Masdar there was an image. On the bottom of the image, automated transportation was mentioned in-passing. But it was arguably just sci-fi promises.

It’s something which has been promised for years for various reasons.  The big three are usually to free up time for commuters, reduce traffic collisions, and improve fuel efficiency. Someone whose car is being driven for them could read in the car; computers react quicker to sudden changes, and human error would no longer be a factor in wrecks; and just like cruise control, constant speeds improve fuel economy.

Enter SARTRE, which stands for Safe Road Trains for the Environment. They might be stretching it a bit for the acronym (maybe not: check the reference), but the European Union launched SARTRE for the exact reasons I just mentioned. Watch the video.

A lot less scary than the movie. But also less corny. And, you know, useful.

The way it works is simple: all of these vehicles are rigged to communicate with each other, all with the same program. This program takes control of the brakes, gas and steering wheel, and simply communicates with the vehicle in front of it.

Note that the vehicle in front is being driven by someone. The leader of each of these ‘road trains’ is intended to be a bus driver or truck driver—someone who is professionally trained and, on average, more capable than a regular commuter.

After these cars are linked up, the computer takes over. If the leader’s brakes are engaged, then the rest of the cars in the train engage their brakes as well. If the leader changes lanes or speeds up, the rest follow suit. Simple.

Breakdown of how a road train functions

And if they did drive a hummer with tank-treads, they would be way too cool to drive in some silly commuter train.

What if the cars brake or accelerate at different speeds? That could potentially cause problems, but this is another reason why the leading vehicle is a big-rig. These types of vehicles accelerate or decelerate very slowly, which means the vehicles behind them must only change speed as rapidly as some extremely sluggish, slow vehicle can. Which is easy unless you drive a hummer with tank-treads. But nobody does that.

SARTRE is starting real-world testing soon. Some news sites say they’ll get going by January. Pretty exciting stuff. Imagine this being commonplace in 10 or 15 years. That’s going to be prime time for a lot of us, in terms of commuting.

Then again, if this happens we won’t be able to make fun of the shaving-slash-doing-makeup-slash-fixing-your-hair-while-driving-and-eating-a-bagel-on-the-way-to-work guy or girl, because you’ll be doing it too.

Read the article I read, which uses the same media (supplied by SARTRE).


3 thoughts on “Cars that drive themselves. Oh, you Europeans.

  1. Pingback: Link Dump 6-24 : Get Real

  2. Pingback: Chinese cars don’t need drivers any more. : Get Real

  3. Pingback: Imagining driving in a world without drivers. | GetReal

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