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Transportation

"Road Trains" Ready To Roll 318

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the new-possibilities-in-war-driving dept.
clickclickdrone writes to mention that "road trains," a system linking vehicles together via wireless sensors, could soon be rolled out in Europe. The system is designed primarily for cutting fuel consumption, travel time, and congestion. "Funded under the European Commission's Framework 7 research plan, Sartre (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) is aimed at commuters in cars who travel long distances to work every day but will also look at ways to involve commercial vehicles. Tom Robinson, project co-ordinator at engineering firm Ricardo, said the idea was to use off-the-shelf components to make it possible for cars, buses and trucks to join the road train."
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"Road Trains" Ready To Roll

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  • by BitHive (578094) on Monday November 09, 2009 @01:54PM (#30035478) Homepage

    If this catches on in America some gear heads are going to explode.

    • Yeah, think of all the new 'convoy' sequels that we will have to listen to on the radio...

      *shudder*
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wizardforce (1005805)

      Well considering the internet evolved from a government project I'd say there isn't going to be any heads exploding over this. Especially if it has military applications which it probably does. Reducing fuel expenditure is a tactical advantage and the vast majority of free market types still support the idea of the government fulfilling the role of national defense to some degree.

      • by Bakkster (1529253)

        Well considering the internet evolved from a government project I'd say there isn't going to be any heads exploding over this. Especially if it has military applications which it probably does. Reducing fuel expenditure is a tactical advantage and the vast majority of free market types still support the idea of the government fulfilling the role of national defense to some degree.

        I doubt the military would use this, at least not overseas. Decreased fuel consumption isn't worth turning a bunch of small targets into one large target. An IED or RPG would go from hitting 1-2 Humvees to 3-6.

        The national security benefit from reducing our domestic oil consumption by even 1% is pretty significant, though.

        • by yukk (638002) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:56AM (#30043162)

          Well considering the internet evolved from a government project I'd say there isn't going to be any heads exploding over this. Especially if it has military applications which it probably does. Reducing fuel expenditure is a tactical advantage and the vast majority of free market types still support the idea of the government fulfilling the role of national defense to some degree.

          I doubt the military would use this, at least not overseas. Decreased fuel consumption isn't worth turning a bunch of small targets into one large target. An IED or RPG would go from hitting 1-2 Humvees to 3-6.

          The national security benefit from reducing our domestic oil consumption by even 1% is pretty significant, though.

          The US Army is already looking into something similar to this but not with the high-speed tailgating effect. They're using one lead driver to lead a group of radio-linked trucks so they can get several times the supplies moved with less exposure of personnel to hostile forces. I only did a quick search so here's what I came up with: http://www.controleng.com/blog/AIMing_for_Automated_Vehicles/14540-Robot_Convoy_Truck.php [controleng.com]

      • by Idiomatick (976696) on Monday November 09, 2009 @03:39PM (#30036972)
        It involves people joining together which is clearly socialist.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fiannaFailMan (702447)

        ... the vast majority of free market types still support the idea of the government fulfilling the role of national defense to some degree.

        No, they just don't think about it. That would interfere with the "all government is evil" mantra that has been drilled into their heads by corporate media interests.

  • I just hope... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mmkkbb (816035) on Monday November 09, 2009 @01:54PM (#30035494) Homepage Journal

    That you can check the professional driver's safety record before joining the train.

    • by vlm (69642)

      That you can check the professional driver's safety record before joining the train.

      And his blood alcohol content? Which brings up a fascinating scenario. Could you bring an unopened booze bottle into a car and then join a train? Then chug the booze, with the plan that you'd sober up well before your 2 hour commute is over? But, something happens, and the train kicks you out? Now you're DWI, but its someone elses fault?

      Or, even if no drinking was done in the car, if your digestion was slow enough that your BAC was below the limit BOTH before and after you joined the train, but while y

    • Re:I just hope... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Monday November 09, 2009 @03:16PM (#30036640) Journal

      It sucks that this system even needs a professional driver to begin with. A better system would be fully peer-to-peer in that any two cars that happened to be traveling in the same direction could link up.

      Of course that would break this company's buisness model, but it would make sense for the car manufacturers to implement it that way.

    • Re:I just hope... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by BasilBrush (643681) on Monday November 09, 2009 @03:19PM (#30036686)

      You don't check a railway train driver's safety record. Or a bus drivers or a taxi drivers. Yet you are putting your life in the their hands on the basis that you trust they are qualified from the job, haven't been sacked for being incompetent, and have some trust in whatever safety systems are in place. This is no different.

    • Don't worry. They will just hire experienced bus drivers! I heard they can drive a 40 hour trip with less than 10 hours of sleep. Also they apparently found a very good deal, from some professionals who won because of their second lowest bid, and because the project manager personally chose his brother's company for being so great at it.

      I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

      </sarcasm>
  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday November 09, 2009 @01:56PM (#30035512) Homepage

    The plan is called "Sartre". My first reaction: What if there's No Exit?

  • by Saryn (1674856)
    This seems like it could be pretty bad if there was an accident.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Nerdfest (867930)
      No worse than usual. Where I come from this would space the cars out slightly ... but their behaviour would be more predictable.
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday November 09, 2009 @02:00PM (#30035556)

    You're handing control over to another driver, who may very well decide not to brake and cause a five car pileup, or worse. Also, there's no way to know the mechanical status of the vehicle -- what if one of them blows a tire, or runs out of gas, or the engine seizes?

    What you should do is create a dedicated lane that is controlled entirely by computer, and you program your exit/entry point at that time, and let the signal and control computers handle traffic management. If an unauthorized vehicle enters the lane, sensors will immediately detect it, alert nearby drivers (and disengage), and send the police to go catch captain speedy pants and send him to a pants-down facility. Computers also do a much better job of fuel consumption and control... I mean, it'd basically be a packet-switched network, but with cars instead of pieces of data. It's a relatively benign IT problem.

    As well, vehicle breakdowns would be handled a lot better because the system would be tied directly to the onboard computer and navigation systems: Just like lorries/semi-trucks operating on the road today. Having spoken to a commercial truck driver, I can tell you that the computer often knows about mechanical problems before the driver does, and their systems are pre-programmed to alert a dispatcher, who will send a rescue/repair vehicle out in situ.

    • I remember reading that induction loops were placed under Motorways (Freeways) in the UK in the 50's, to allow remote control of vehicles using the road. M4 is in the front of my mind, but I could be wrong.
      Sodding problem is I can't find any reference to it :-(
    • by mdmkolbe (944892)

      there's no way to know the mechanical status of the vehicle

      the computer often knows about mechanical problems before the driver does

      So which is it?

    • What you should do is create a dedicated lane that is controlled entirely by computer, and you program your exit/entry point at that time, and let the signal and control computers handle traffic management. If an unauthorized vehicle enters the lane, sensors will immediately detect it, alert nearby drivers (and disengage), and send the police to go catch captain speedy pants and send him to a pants-down facility. Computers also do a much better job of fuel consumption and control... I mean, it'd basically be a packet-switched network, but with cars instead of pieces of data. It's a relatively benign IT problem.

      Yeah, but remember, packet collisions are an ingrained part of network management. Makes the idea a BIT more scary :P

    • I've seen at least half-a-dozen deer on the roads in the last couple of weeks. How is this going to work when one decides to run right through the middle of the train?

      No chance in hell I would be a part of this.

      • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday November 09, 2009 @02:21PM (#30035912) Homepage Journal

        I've seen at least half-a-dozen deer on the roads in the last couple of weeks. How is this going to work when one decides to run right through the middle of the train?

        Well, I imagine what would happen is that the driver about to hit the deer would brake hard. The computer would relay this braking information to the following vehicles so they would all brake at very nearly the same instant. The problem that arises is that different vehicles have different braking capabilities, so if the vehicle about to hit the deer can brake harder than one of the vehicles coming behind, then we'd end up with a collision, maybe even a chain of collisions.

        Ideally, the vehicles in front should have their braking artificially limited so that it doesn't exceed the braking ability of any following vehicle. If that were done, then the computers could ensure that collisions in the train don't happen.

        • You assume they would paying attention. From the article:

          "Those in following vehicles could take their hands off the wheel, read a book or watch TV, while they travel along the motorway."

          • by swillden (191260)

            You assume they would paying attention

            If they aren't paying attention, and don't brake, then there's even less problem. They'll be moving a little faster when they hit the deer, true, but generally the amount of braking you can do in such a situation doesn't make much difference anyway, and that way the vehicles behind won't have to worry about braking hard.

            The vehicle that hit the deer will be badly damaged and have to come to a stop, but it won't be such a rapid stop that the rest of the train behind it can't slow.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          If that were done, then the computers could ensure that collisions in the train don't happen.

          Of course that makes collisions worse with any vehicle or obstruction in front of your 'train'... like, say, some wacko terrorist who steals a truck and then slams on the brakes in front of you.

          This whole 'road train' idea is just stupid for so many reasons that I'm surprised that anyone other than 'private transport is evil' commies keep trying to defend it.

          • by swillden (191260)

            Of course that makes collisions worse with any vehicle or obstruction in front of your 'train'... like, say, some wacko terrorist who steals a truck and then slams on the brakes in front of you.

            It's possible. I expect that the lives saved by road trains, since issues of driver error would be largely removed, would vastly exceed those who might be killed by such events.

            This whole 'road train' idea is just stupid for so many reasons that I'm surprised that anyone other than 'private transport is evil' commies keep trying to defend it.

            I think it's a brilliant idea, and have thought so for years. I think it offers a way to get most of the benefits of public transportation while retaining the flexibility of private transportation.

            Once the road trains get dedicated lanes, you can even start ramping the speeds up. If the trained vehicles are packed closely enough

    • I mean, it'd basically be a packet-switched network, but with cars instead of pieces of data. It's a relatively benign IT problem.

      What a great idea! Why not simply have Mr Speedy Pants organized into a packet that gets lost in transmission? The one that gets resent after the NAK can look alike but its still a new packet but perhaps without the hidden corruption!

    • by Arthur Grumbine (1086397) on Monday November 09, 2009 @02:58PM (#30036400) Journal

      I mean, it'd basically be a packet-switched network, but with cars instead of pieces of data.

      Hey! Here on /. we use car analogies to explain computer technology - not vice-versa!!

    • You're handing control over to another driver, who may very well decide not to brake and cause a five car pileup

      The following cars are electronically linked in, they would also brake and the whole train would come to a stop. As long as each car (including the lead) was restricted to brake at the same rate as the car with the worst stopping time no collision would ever occur. Besides, if the distance between the cars is small enough, even a discrepancy in braking power that wasn't compensated for would only cause a slight difference in velocity before a collision occurred. The impact would be minimal unless the last v

  • You can already get this tech if you splurge for an S-class Mercedes:

    http://www.benzinsider.com/2008/06/distronic-plus-and-brake-assist-plus-reduce-rear-end-collisions-by-20/ [benzinsider.com]

    It would be a cool DIY project, too. Don't tell your insurance company.

  • FTA: Each road train could include up to eight separate vehicles. [...] The lead vehicle would be handled by a professional driver who would monitor the status of the road train.

    This sounds like a major obstacle to me. One professional, presumably paid, driver to every eight vehicles sounds expensive and pretty impractical. What are they going to do, have you queue up somewhere waiting for one of these lead drivers to come along? I think that's taking the whole "train" analogy too far, one of the reasons I

    • by Sique (173459)

      This sounds like a major obstacle to me. One professional, presumably paid, driver to every eight vehicles sounds expensive and pretty impractical.

      No, the driver is not there to wait for cars wanting to form a road train. The professional driver is there because he has to drive the route anyway, transporting freight or whatever. Road trains will be formed spontaneously, when someone decides to join the truck and tailgate it. And as soon as the leading truck is heading somewhere else, you are free to leave the road train again.

      • by Al Dimond (792444)

        So you disengage from the truck so you can make your exit. This dismantles the entire train; you and everyone behind you must space out to normal separation. I have a feeling this could be pretty tricky with more than a couple cars involved, or if there's significant traffic or difficult merges. I'm trying to picture a maneuver like this taking place safely, for example, near the Mannheim exit on the inbound Eisenhower west of Chicago (formerly known as the Hillside Strangler... a few years ago more lane

  • by The Archon V2.0 (782634) on Monday November 09, 2009 @02:08PM (#30035688)
    The scene: A road that was winding its way along a treacherous landscape (think Wile E. Coyote's home turf).

    A generic couple were standing by the side of road, which was basically a piece of flat pavement cut into the side of a mountain. They were watching a garage inventor/scientist type explain his latest invention, a motorized luggage carrier. Sort of a motorcycle sidecar or luggage unit for people who didn't want to change the visual impact of their motorbike. It was an independent unit, had its own motor and fuel, and required only a slight modification to the motorcycle in the form of a radio transmitter. After that, it basically mimicked the motions of the "master" motorcycle.

    Garage inventor gets on his bike, fires it up, and drives off. Sure enough, the other device (which I recall looking a lot like a large cooler on wheels) fired up by itself and followed. A few minutes later, the garage inventor loops back and drives by. Getting cocky, he waves at the couple. Unfortunately, he hits a rock and with only one hand on the handlebars, can't recover. He loses control, and drives off the side of the cliff. An unpleasant "crunch" is heard below.

    Moments later, the motorized luggage holder comes along and dutifully throws itself off the cliff as well. A second "crunch" is heard.

    The couple look down at the carnage and then leave.

  • I believe the reason this will never catch has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with legal liability. Who is going to want to be the front car of the train, when they will obviously be responsible for any accidents? What company is going to want to supply this system and open themselves up to massive lawsuits whenever somebody finds a way to defeat the system and cause an accident?
  • I'm wondering if this is a workable step to an autopilot for cars? I would pay a lot to be able to hook up to a platoon and sleep a good portion of the trip. But it would seem like this might be workable as an interim step to an in-road sensor system.

    The real trick would be making sure the driver was awake before releasing the car from the platoon. And what about the cars behind them? Also don't see how this prevents someone from cutting in between cars in the train.

  • by PPH (736903) on Monday November 09, 2009 @02:20PM (#30035886)
    ... on I-94 to Minneapolis, but I fell asleep and missed the exit by 150 miles.
  • Train Wreck (Score:4, Interesting)

    by smitty777 (1612557) on Monday November 09, 2009 @02:28PM (#30036016) Journal

    OK - imagine this scenario: a train is driving along, and something happens to car number 2/8. Hit by another car, flat tire, accidentally leans on the joystick [slashdot.org], whatever. The car veers out of control, unlinking cars 3-8. So now you have six cars being manned by people who were sleeping/reading/eating/daydreaming 10 nanoseconds ago.

    I'm just sayin, I don't think you could pay me enough to get in one of those trains. Mythbusters did an interesting piece on saving gas by drafting. You could save a great deal of gas, but at great expense to safety.

    • Re:Train Wreck (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nutshell42 (557890) on Monday November 09, 2009 @06:30PM (#30039390) Journal
      OK - imagine this scenario: a large number of very intelligent specialists work for years on this idea and the necessary tech is implemented in every European car and noone ever thought of the 100% obvious first-problem-any-person-would-come-up-with-when-introduced-to-this-idea problem smitty777 discovered with the vast power of his uber-brain. European roads then become deathtraps, depopulating the continent like it's 1349.

      I'm just sayin, every /. article with new ideas gets swamped by people stating absolutely obvious problems as if the people working on that project were all functionally retarded. I said the same thing just a few days ago but this article really brought the geniuses out of the woodwork like I haven't seen in some time.

  • Now the distracted drivers can have their twitter/text/calls/lipstick/ etc and not get pulled over for it.
  • by bobdotorg (598873) on Monday November 09, 2009 @02:31PM (#30036082)

    Theory: Sartre
    Implementation: Kafka

  • Merging and Curves (Score:3, Insightful)

    by frith01 (1118539) on Monday November 09, 2009 @02:35PM (#30036140)

    How would they expect this system to work at highway Merges ? Another fun thing is inclement weather and curves on the highway. My car can take curves at a much higher speed than a panel truck during high winds.

    I can see where this would be useful on long straight highways, but otherwise very dangerous. Each car would also need a "safe return to park" capability which would
    cause the cars to park themselves to the side of the road if the central control was lost, and the driver did not respond within a few seconds.

    Include a gps unit that would alert people that their turn is coming up, and have the professional driver thing only be for testing , and add that capability to general car system.

    • by Foofoobar (318279)
      Exactly. That was my first question too. How do they change lanes also? A Lane change with 20 cars would be IMPOSSIBLE!
  • ...a luxury coach, with family compartments, toilets, DVD players, all that stuff, and stick a six- or eight-car trailer behind it.

    We can do that today.

  • I've seen this in operation already.

    There was this camper with bicycles attached to the back, towing a car, towing a trailer full of moterbikes and canoes. If that isn't a road-train, I don't know what it should be called.

  • This has been done before, and better, in California. See Demo 97. [tfhrc.gov]

    There's considerable military interest in follow-the-leader systems for convoys. The military routinely drives trucks around in big groups. The US Army has a system in test where the lead vehicle (usually armored) leads a group of driverless trucks. That's to reduce casualties, not labor.

    The fundamental problem with most automated driving schemes is that they address driving on freeways, which people don't mind all that much. Automati

    • by swillden (191260)

      The fundamental problem with most automated driving schemes is that they address driving on freeways, which people don't mind all that much. Automatically retrieving your car from a parking garage or lot and bringing it to you would actually sell.

      Depends on where you live. Where I live, 95% of my driving is on freeways, and I rarely have to walk more than 20 yards to get to my car in a parking lot.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MozeeToby (1163751)

      The fundamental problem with most automated driving schemes is that they address driving on freeways, which people don't mind all that much.

      Speak for yourself. I make a 5 hour drive once a month to see family and assuming a minumum level of safety, I would pay at least $5k for a system that kept the current lane, kept the current speed, and automatically slowed down to avoid accidents. Sure my drive would take just as long, probably even longer since it wouldn't go around slow vehicles in the fast lane, but that would be hours out of my life that I could spend doing any of a dozen different things.

  • This will give an entirely another meaning to the expression "L'enfer, c'est les autres".

  • Fuel savings? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Elwar123 (1053566)
    So you need one professional driver for every 8 cars to do the driving. How is it saving fuel if for every 8 cars your new train system has to have 1 more car burning fuel? You're adding 12.5% in fuel to save a few mpg.

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