New Tech Could Mean Hands-Free Driving

Swedish trials have shown that, in principle at least, it could be possible to create a “road train” of vehicles controlled only by one driver.

Sadly, this isn’t an invention I came up with during one lengthy journey by which expressways would be replaced with airport-style travelators, an ideaI stand by despite some minor limitations involving logistics, physics and economics.

Instead the idea is to use electronically controlled vehicles arranged in such a way that the front vehicles issues commands. This controls the steering and speed of the cars behind, while each individual vehicle sends and receives signals to make sure they are at a safe distance from one another. Drivers would control when they join and leave the convoy via a control panel in their vehicle, with the convoy adjusting to leave enough space for the car to safely pull out.

The technology was tested through the tenuously named Sartre (SAfe Road TRains for the Environment), a European Commission research project. The test saw a lorry lead the way, taking control of a single car on a test track.

There are several claimed advantages for the technology: as well as making life easier for drivers, who can take a break from intense concentration, it could cut congestion by making a more efficient use of space, and even cut fuel consumption by 20% thanks to the cars being close enough to cut the effects of air drag.

The idea is that the system would be used on designated roads, with the lead vehicle controlled by a professional driver. Cars taking part would likely pay a fee to fund the technology.

According to the original timetable, further trials are scheduled for Spain and the UK, with a public road test in Spain. However, no matter how successful the technological development, it could be many years if ever before it comes into use, simply because of the likely difficulty of persuading national governments the technology is safe to allow on public roads.

And yes, that is a Windows logo you can see in the photograph. And yes, you can make your own BSOD comment here.

(Image credit: Ricardo UK)