Driverless 'Road Trains' One Step Closer To Reality

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Stuck in traffic, by Flickr user SMercury98

Stuck in traffic, by Flickr user SMercury98

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Reading the paper. Holding a video conference call. Snapping photographs. Eating a McDonalds. All things that are probably best avoided whilst driving on the freeway.

However, thanks to developments in technology, you might be able to do all these things and more (we'll leave the "and more" to your imagination). In the future, you could potentially join a freeway, get in line behind a special lead vehicle and your car would automatically follow it until such time as you reached your exit when you once again take control and leave the freeway.

Driverless technology and road trains have been looked into before, and now they're a step closer to reality. Researchers at the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) have confirmed that the first successful test of "platooning" has taken place at Volvo's Swedish test track.

A driverless car has successfully been "coupled" to a lead car driven by a professional driver. In future, these lead cars are expected to tow along trains of several vehicles. There are several advantages to this, including reduced congestion, improved safety and reduced fuel consumption.

Many people are still wary of the idea and their are liability issues should a driverless vehicle ever be involved in an accident, but improvements are being made all the time. It's always worth noting that many commercial aircraft can now complete a journey almost entirely without pilot interaction. Road trains are a little different to entirely driverless vehicles such as Google's driverless car, in that all the cars are following a lead car with a professional driver. Many high-end vehicles already feature adaptive cruise control that can brake and accelerate should a car in front do the same, and road trains are an adaption of this technology.

The road trains would take up less space on the road than the same number of cars individually controlled, and the professional driver would likely make safer decisions than the average motorist.

SARTRE Project Coordinator of Ricardo UK, Tom Robinson, said: "With the combined skills of its participating companies, SARTRE is making tangible progress towards the realisation of safe and effective road train technology."

So in the future if you ever feel the need to catch up on the morning's news, you should be able to do it behind the wheel in a road train.

Just don't get so engrossed that you miss your exit...

[Transport Research Laboratory]

 
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