The European Union has contracted an engineering firm to develop a public transportation system that doesn’t require users to leave their cars. The British consultancy Ricardo will work to develop a system that allows drivers to surrender control of their vehicles, and the company plans to test the system on public roads within the decade. It all sounds highly fanciful, but the firm insists it is a genuine attempt to build so-called “road trains”, whereby various cars or other vehicles travel in convoy with only the one at the front steering. Big names, such as Volvo, have also signed up [London Times]. The project has been dubbed Sartre, for Safe Road Trains for the Environment. Basically, a lead car, driven by a professional driver, will travel down the highway and other cars can fall in behind and turn the driving over to the lead car. Cars would be able to enter and exit the platoon at any time by sending a signal to the lead car.
Ricardo officials speculated that those joining a platoon or road train may one day pay for the privilege of someone else effectively driving them closer to their destination [BBC News]. The benefits of road trains extend beyond being able to sing along to the radio or eat breakfast in the privacy of your car. According to earlier research, fuel consumption could be cut by 20 percent because cars wouldn’t waste energy on abrupt braking or acceleration, and also because cars traveling close together would experience less air drag. Also, road capacity will increase at the same time that accidents from distracted or drowsy drivers decrease [Wired.com].
The Sarte development project will run for three years, and towards the end they will begin testing their convoys on private road tracks. Eventually they plan to start public road trials in Spain, which would consist of two- or three-car road trains. Click here for a schematic of how the road trains would work.
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Image: flickr / Nrbelex