November 10, 2009

Europe Tries Turning Cars into "Trains"

While "smart highways" that will do the driving for you still appear to be a pipe dream, Europe is now experimenting with a cheaper alternative: Road Trains. Fast Company explains:

Here's how a road train works: the convoy is controlled by a lead vehicle with a professional driver at the helm--one day, this is where all Formula 1 retirees will end up. The other cars communicate with the leader to join and leave the train when they want, thanks to wireless sensors and their existing sat nav systems. Once on the convoy, the drivers behind the leader are able to take their hands off the wheel to read a book, watch TV, or check company sales figures and decide which poor minion is for the chop this month.

Sounds... intriguing. The tests will take place in the UK, Sweden and Spain (and oddly, it's the Spanish who get to test it out on public roads). Shifting traffic to a computer network style "packet-based" system where small groups of cars move in carefully orchestrated batches has always been the holy grail of traffic management. Achieving this through the use of "smartened up" lead vehicles certainly seems more practical than re-engineering millions of miles of roads.

One issue that arises, of course, is the need to retrain drivers to handle the transition from being a "member" of a road train back to being an independent vehicle. As any airline pilot will tell you, the smooth switchover from a passive to an active awareness mode takes training, a bit of time and has horrible consequences if done poorly.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what these tests come up with.

Image courtesy Fast Company

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Blogger Mr_Grant said...

I see the congestion simply moving from the highway to wherever the cars have to gather for entraining.

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