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Autonomous Road Train Project Completes First Public Road Test 148

Posted by samzenpus
from the follow-the-leader dept.
theodp writes "Covered earlier on Slashdot, but lost in the buzz over the Google driverless car is Project Sartre (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), Europe's experiment with 'vehicle platooning,' which has successfully completed a 125 mile road test on a busy Spain motorway. Three Volvos drove themselves by automatically following a truck in the presence of other, normal road users. The Register reports that on-board cameras, radar and laser tracking allow each vehicle to monitor the one in front, and wirelessly streamed data from the lead vehicle tells each car when to accelerate, break and turn."
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Autonomous Road Train Project Completes First Public Road Test

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  • Break (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Well I hope they didn't send the "break" signal too often. That'd be a real bummer.

    • by AJWM (19027)

      Not quite where I thought you were going with this...

      "Breaker one-nine. Looks like we got us a convoy."

      • Check out some of the other comments. A fair number of people seem unable to distinguish between "break" and "brake".

        Okay, fine. Spelling is a fairly minor skill in the grand scheme of things. But I have to wonder at how far the confusion extends, if we take as a premise that language is essentially built upon metaphor. Do they have a mental image of something breaking when the brakes are applied?
        • Spelling is a fairly minor skill in the grand scheme of things.

          Tell a compiler that...

        • Check out some of the other comments. A fair number of people seem unable to distinguish between "break" and "brake". Okay, fine. Spelling is a fairly minor skill in the grand scheme of things. But I have to wonder at how far the confusion extends, if we take as a premise that language is essentially built upon metaphor. Do they have a mental image of something breaking when the brakes are applied?

          I agree with you that there has been some confusion or wordplay with break/brake, but I think you've missed the larger point: The iconic 1975 song "Convoy" by C.W. McCall. There's even a Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] entry. Ahh, the memories of taking the 45 out of it's sleeve and playing it over and over again...

          • Hasn't that dang thing gotten enough play by now? It's half the reason why I gave up listening to commercial radio.

            The tune was certainly iconic here as well. Only here, the exploding market for CB radios in 1975 consisted mostly of kids from Hong Kong driving Japanese cars with spoilers and tinted windows. They don't go in for a lot of country music.
  • by ickleberry (864871) <web@pineapple.vg> on Monday May 28, 2012 @06:02PM (#40137609) Homepage
    With mechanical linkages and a track instead of this complicated virtual 'pretend' train
    • by digitallife (805599) on Monday May 28, 2012 @06:09PM (#40137643)

      Yes, because a real train is exactly as convenient and practical as driving my car on the highway. Should I get off your lawn now?

      • by DeathElk (883654)

        Actually, travelling in a real train IS MORE PRACTICAL and CONVENIENT than driving your car ON THE HIGHWAY. You see, sharing a train with other passengers on a defined journey is a more practical use of resources. By defined journey, I mean travelling on a fixed path between two points. Such as on a train or on a highway. And if you are travelling in a train, you can relax and do whatever you want whilst someone else controls the vehicle, thus the convenience.

        Of course, the practicality and convenience of t

        • by minchazo (1548055)
          Apparently you haven't tried to ride a train in the US recently. I've recently priced a trip from the east to west coast and the train was both more expensive and took longer than going by car. Granted we were taking 5+ people, so YMMV if you're travelling alone.
          • by cduffy (652)

            Apparently you haven't tried to ride a train in the US recently. I've recently priced a trip from the east to west coast and the train was both more expensive and took longer than going by car. Granted we were taking 5+ people, so YMMV if you're travelling alone.

            Also varies by what kind of train and where you are -- here in austin.tx.us, if you're lucky enough to live and work in places where our single little commuter rail line is convenient, it's not only cheaper than gas for a typical (22mpg) passenger v

      • You're absolutely right. Why someone would drive a car on the highway when taking a train is a hell of a lot more convenient and practical is something I'll never know.

        Just wish America actually had a proper comprehensive train system outside of the North East.

    • by Anaerin (905998) on Monday May 28, 2012 @06:09PM (#40137647)
      This system allows anyone to join and leave the train at any time while it is in motion. It allows users to transfer from one train to another. It can form trains of (theoretically) any length. It allows you to choose your own personal entertainment without disturbing anyone else in the train. It allows you to travel from start to destination without having to wait, or go outside. Need I continue?
    • by lessthan (977374)

      This is the spawn of the the idea that if you get reeeealllly close to an 18-wheeler, the suction of the displaced air will pull you along a bit, saving gas. The problem being that "reeeealllly close" translates to red smear after one sudden braking on the trucks part. Basically, they are trying to invent a button to let you air drag without dying.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Just FYI, while it save energy for the trailing vehicle, it costs more for the lead vehicle. You're actually stealing energy from the lead vehicle.

        • Just FYI, while it save energy for the trailing vehicle, it costs more for the lead vehicle. You're actually stealing energy from the lead vehicle.

          But there is an overall net savings for both vehicles combined.

  • That's ABSURD!!!!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You could have taken say, 3 seconds, and done something better, like...

      They were driving on the highway, and discovered there was no exit.

  • by BagOBones (574735) on Monday May 28, 2012 @06:06PM (#40137631)

    On long mountain roads far to often I see someone try to aggressively pass long sets of cars only to have to abort half way, causing other drivers to let them in quickly to avoid an accident..

    I wonder if this road train would let them in.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      .. or maybe they aren't being aggressive, but have to keep going because no one lets them in.. Everyone tailgates everyone else, so you have to pass all the cars.

      • by JustOK (667959)

        or, you know, stay in line.

      • by Adriax (746043)

        When there's enough room for not only the first guy but both the idiots who started passing as well without checking, then yes, they're driving aggressively.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by TurtleBay (1942166)
        If you don't see open road ahead of the car in front of you when you pull into the lane for opposing traffic, you are being an aggressive driver. If you are behind a line of traffic, you should not pass. Allowing passing in oncoming traffic lanes is intended for passing individual slow moving vehicles.
    • by david.given (6740)

      Yeah, that was my thought too; they'd have to let the car in, because that kind of stupidity is real life human behaviour that the machines are just going to have to deal with in order to operate on real roads. (Simply hanging a sign on the back saying 'road train, do not overtake' isn't an option because you know some moron is going to ignore it.)

      So the options are: (a) break the train --- but this is bad, because you're suddenly going to have to alert everybody from the break downstream that they're sud

      • by erice (13380) on Monday May 28, 2012 @08:03PM (#40138201) Homepage

        So the options are: (a) break the train --- but this is bad, because you're suddenly going to have to alert everybody from the break downstream that they're suddenly going to have to drive on manual, without much warning, or (b) maintain the train, but with a foreign car in the middle.

        In either case, the cars in the train should identify the vehicle and notify the authorities. It would also help to update the traffic law to make it only legal to join a road train from the back with an approved autonomous tracking system. Anything else results in an expensive fine and a moving violation on the driver's record.

        • In either case, the cars in the train should identify the vehicle and notify the authorities. It would also help to update the traffic law to make it only legal to join a road train from the back with an approved autonomous tracking system. Anything else results in an expensive fine and a moving violation on the driver's record.

          Just be easier if the train had defensive weaponry and could shoot back. In fact, I'd join a train for just that option alone..... Hmmm....

        • by adolf (21054)

          If they notify authorities that aggressive passing is happening, then those authorities should also use this information (demographically) in order to determine which section(s) of roadway need improved/widened/better-patrolled/whatever sooner instead of later.

      • The system should allow the train to break into smaller trains, and rejoin into a larger one. If the train is too long, it will need to allow for merging traffic as well as aborted overtaking. But every vehicle needs to be smart enough to take over the lead role.
        • by wvmarle (1070040)

          Total disagree here.

          First of all a train should never become too long. And that's easy: every train head (the truck they used) should accept only a certain number of vehicles. If it reaches that number, other cars will simply not be allowed to join the train. This as otherwise you could get infinite length, blocking all exits for the other traffic and so. At 6m separation between vehicles it's simply not possible to cut through such a train.

          Secondly you can not just break a train, and ask an arbitrary drive

    • by slazzy (864185)
      Very interesting, I think they would need to add in a lot of "real world" situations like this into their programming.
    • by linatux (63153)

      traffic lights that change when the train is half-way thru?

      • by tepples (727027)
        How does the law handle traffic signals that change when a tractor-trailer is halfway through?
    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      Or maybe the system isn't active on long 2-lane mountain roads. Or most 2 lane roads. There might be a few exceptions for some roads such as the ones in the middle of nowhere (center of Australia, western US, etc).

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      The article says that the cars were following the truck at an average separation of just 6m. That's roughly the length of a typical car. Good luck moving in between two of them (unless the train cooperates - which would require the overtaking car to communicate with the train's control systems).

      This sounds like a system suitable for motorways only - where traffic is highly predictable, and you never have to abort overtaking. The human driver in the front, who basically drives the complete train, is then in

      • were following the truck at an average separation of just 6m. That's roughly the length of a typical car.

        Your car is over 18 feet long? What are you driving?
        • by wvmarle (1070040)

          You're really twisting the words that I wrote.

          I never said I have a car (I don't).

          I never said that car would be 6m (which indeed would be well over 18 ft). An average car is a little less than that.

          All I said was that their separation was roughly one car length. Which is accurate enough for the sake of the argument, and to help visualise what's going on.

  • Break? (Score:4, Funny)

    by djbckr (673156) on Monday May 28, 2012 @06:06PM (#40137635)
    Seriously, how easy was that one? Brake is something that slows down a vehicle. Break is when it fails to Brake!
    • Re:Break? (Score:5, Funny)

      by pitchpipe (708843) on Monday May 28, 2012 @06:26PM (#40137725)

      ...and wirelessly streamed data from the lead vehicle tells each car when to accelerate, break and turn.

      It's not a typo. The lead car has special sensor to determine when a car is getting fatigued, and will call a 'break time' when it senses enough cars getting tired.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      The cars will also have to be instructed to break out of the train. When they reach their exit.

      I assume at least that the end goal is going to be for cars to be able to hook up arbitrarily, and to be able to be "dropped off" arbitrarily. The latter isn't that hard either: when your vehicle reaches the start of the exit, the system sends your vehicle to that lane (basically next to the train), and you can take back manual control (and if you don't, take you back in). Then the rest of the train closes the gap

  • I can imagine sending the other vehicles the "signal" to head to my place for unloading. The security implications are tremendous.

    • Wirelessly streamed data from the lead vehicle tells each car when to accelerate, break and turn, all in real-world traffic conditions.

      The trust issues sound... problematic.

    • That 'signal' would have to be a substantial bribe. The lead truck is driven by a human.

  • Who else read "Anonymous Road Train Project"?

    Picturing guys in business suits with Guy Fawkes masks on.
  • What's the point? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by countach (534280) on Monday May 28, 2012 @06:28PM (#40137731)

    I can't see the point in pursuing automated drivers. I mean, even if you could get them to work well 99% of the time, that 1% failure (or even .001% failure) would be just unacceptable.

    I know we get computers to control aircraft, but it is a rather different situation. The problem of controlling an aeroplane with nothing up there to run into is a problem 10000 times easier than on the ground where there are so many hazards to avoid. The software would be so complex, there would be no way of knowing when it is going to plunge the vehicle into a tree. Odd happenings like this even occasionally happen to aircraft, but at least then the pilot usually has time to recover the situation before it is fatal. And that software is going to be MUCH simpler and auditable.

    • by Baloroth (2370816) on Monday May 28, 2012 @06:46PM (#40137789)

      I can't see the point in pursuing automated drivers. I mean, even if you could get them to work well 99% of the time, that 1% failure (or even .001% failure) would be just unacceptable.

      And in this magic world you live in human drivers work right 100% of the time? For that matter, car breakdowns can cause accidents too, and we more than accept those. A .001% failure rate would certainly be acceptable (although "rate" is, in this case, ambiguous: do you mean .001% of driverless cars would ever crash?) That is vastly superior current percentages, which is roughly 2-3% per year. Even 1% failure rate per year would be a significant improvement over human drivers. And there really aren't that many hazards on the highway or especially freeways. In residential neighborhoods? Maybe, but that is a relatively small fraction of driving which can be overcome by having humans as backups, or highly cautious software. For most driving, you stay between the lines, note the position of nearby cars, and break to avoid any obstacles. A computer can perform those functions better than most humans, since it can track every single car nearby and their exact speed, trajectory, behavior patterns, etc. Humans cannot.

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        While of course you are totally correct, psychology comes into play.

        Humans are just not good in handing over control to machines. That's why most subway trains still have drivers on board, even when they are actually operated fully automatically.

      • You didn't read what he wrote. He didn't say it would be any worse than human drivers, he said it would be unacceptable. And he's right. A road fatality is just a road fatality, while a fatality under automated driving is some poor guy getting killed by that newfangled computer that they want to put in your car! Ban, baby! Ban! I try to be fairly data oriented, but I have to admit this particular irrational bias would affect me as well. Barreling down the freeway at 120 km/h with some taxi driver I've never
      • A computer can perform those functions better than most humans, since it can track every single car nearby and their exact speed, trajectory, behavior patterns, etc

        Especially if the other cars are designed to cooperate by broadcasting their speed, trajectory, etc. Then your car won't have to expend CPU cycles analyzing camera images to determine what the other cars are up to.

    • by cnettel (836611)

      The point is that you have a flesh-and-blood driver in the front car. Therefore, you "only" need to consider what can happen within the tightly controlled corridor of vehicles forming the train. In heavy weather etc, things can still get messy. However, the software could possibly adapt by lengthening distances (causing less than optimal drag) or simply disabling the automatic train. At this point, it is a convenience and efficiency-improving measure while on the highway, not a replacement for a human drive

    • The problem is, you assume humans work well 100% of the time, when in fact it is considerably lower than that. That's the key issue, not the pursuit of perfection, but the pursuit of something better than a human. Computers can have potentially have better response times, more awareness, and more correct handling of common danger scenarios than humans. We still have a ways to go till we reach the point when we swap a human driver with a computer, but computer assisted driving is getting more a more commo
    • by cavePrisoner (1184997) on Monday May 28, 2012 @06:56PM (#40137851)
      I suspect laws will still prevent this for a long while, but I can think of two good situations to use automated drivers. The first is very long drives. In a few weeks I have to make a 24 hour drive. If I didn't have to stop to sleep, I could literally be home in 24 hours. Instead it will take much longer. The other case comes up more, since I'm stuck in a place with nonexistent public transportation. It can drive my drunken self home on weekends.

      Even sober, long duration driving and driving at night (ie tired) result in a lot of crashes. Even if it has a failure rate, it will be better than most human driving anyway. I can think of times (when overworked of course) in broad daylight that I've fallen asleep at red lights. But I still have to get to work. I can't choose not to drive. This gives somebody like me the ability to get to work more safely, if not completely safely.
      • It can drive my drunken self home on weekends.

        My elderly relatives like to remind me that a horse and carriage can do that too. The horse knows how to get home.

    • by rts008 (812749)

      I disagree on several points with your comment.

      The 1%, or 0.001% you mention....
      IMHO, if that 1% turns out to be safer than the tens of thousands of fatalities every year due to human error we have now, your objections are silly. (not even taking into account all of the other non-fatal traffic accidents that snarl traffic, damage property, and cause injuries we currently experience)

      And the comparison to operating an automobile to an airplane?....WOW, what are you smoking?

      I would speculate that if getting a

    • Those caravans of state highway escort trucks [wdrb.com] accompanying road work crews would only need one driver.

    • by volmtech (769154)
      I've driven on I95 in Florida before daylight in dense fog. Everyone was still going 70 mph. They just assumed the road was clear. The only trouble I ever had was one time when I got off the interstate onto a side road. The tail lights I thought I saw 50 meters away turned out to be tiny brake lights on a boat trailer ten meters away. I almost had a grill full of outboard motor.
  • I worked on Carnegie Mellon's Red Team racing for a bit, but I didn't do anything major. I wanted to put in a redundant vision detection to their laser range finding and GPS guidance, but I got shot down. At least they let me poke around with GPS tweaking for a bit.

    Anyway I always thought it'd be much easier to just make a train system where the rerouting sections get switched depending on your trip you programmed in. By being off normal rider roads, you'd only have to contend with other computerized trains, which could be tracked. The key thing at this point is just having some way to avoid deer and downed trees. I would think by first getting an automated train system up, then we could move into car systems later. The real trick is finding a city that doesn't have car transportation that wants to risk itself into automated trains. There are other problems with automated trains such as vandalism and terrorism and such.
    • by adolf (21054)

      Mudslides, bridges out, unknown construction closures, fallen rock, trees down, escaped farm cows, and flooding are all major obstacles that I, myself, have encountered on lesser-travelled roads but never on a major highway.

      Take all of that into consideration, and you might have my vote for your concept. (Unless I happen to live on one of these secondary roads, in which case I might take offense at any proposition to dramatically increase traffic, automated or not.)

  • We have had road trains here in OZ for many years http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_train [wikipedia.org] Passing one is virtually impossible as the amount of air they drag along with them will either push you sideways or you get sucked under their wheels, I expect a close convoy of cars would have a similar drag effect.
    • Oh yeah? How are you getting the cars in behind to drive themselves?

      • by ozduo (2043408)

        Oh yeah? How are you getting the cars in behind to drive themselves?

        They don't need to drive themselves, they get pulled along therefore saving fuel.

      • Oh yeah? How are you getting the cars in behind to drive themselves?

        In Australia, a "road train" is a transport truck with multiple physically coupled trailers, not a convoy of independent vehicles. It's like a train - but on the road. Hence, the name: road train [tripod.com].

    • by Zaelath (2588189)

      4-5 car road trains are the scariest thing I experienced when I drove from Adelaide to Alice Springs.

      At the time there was no speed limit in the NT and the road trains were all doing ~140Kph.

      I think the difference between those and this idea is; if a road train passed a car, when it pulled back onto it's side of the road the last trailer in the train would oscillate about a meter for quite a while, where as a series of trucks have steering on each.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Normal passenger cars are much smaller and more streamlined than those huge trucks, so will have far less drag.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As a pedestrian, longboarder and cyclist, I wonder how do those AIs fare with obstacles that are moving but are not cars.

    I mean, what the fuck, human drivers are already pretty bad sometimes...

    • by snookums (48954)

      As a pedestrian, longboarder and cyclist, I wonder how do those AIs fare with obstacles that are moving but are not cars.

      Why are you walking, longboarding, or cycling on the freeway?

      • by gmhowell (26755)

        As a pedestrian, longboarder and cyclist, I wonder how do those AIs fare with obstacles that are moving but are not cars.

        Why are you walking, longboarding, or cycling on the freeway?

        Cocaine is a helluva drug?

    • Well, an AI is not going to give you attitude, curse at you, deliberately try to run you off the road, etc. If you are obeying the rules of the road, you should be perfectly safe. Driver AIs are built to respect all users of the road.

      Having said that, get your wretched skateboard off the road, and pull up your mother-lovin pants.
  • Convoy [imdb.com] (1978): Truckers form a mile long "convoy" in support of a trucker's vendetta with an abusive sheriff. Based on the country song of same title by C.W. McCall. Trailer [youtube.com].

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Monday May 28, 2012 @09:17PM (#40138563) Homepage

    Most of the time highway traffic is safe and predictable. Driving 125 miles under favorable conditions (perfect weather and visibility if the news photo is any guide) without incident? Drunks do that and often get away with it; so do texting teenagers and fatigued truck drivers.

    If someone demonstrated that he could drive 125 while smoking marijuana without having an accident, would we conclude that driving while high is safe and should be allowed?

    The accident rate on highways is so low that 125 miles tells you nothing at all. The average accident rate in the United States is 8 fatalities per billion passenger miles. There is no way in the world a single 125 mile test involving four vehicles can tell you whether the accident rate for these car-trains is the same, ten times as high, or ten times as low. This is just a stunt, and proves nothing except that someone at Volvo had guts, and that someone in authority exercised bad judgement and allowed it.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      This is just a stunt, and proves nothing except that someone at Volvo had guts, and that someone in authority exercised bad judgement and allowed it.

      TFA Said: The 125-mile test run was conducted at an average speed of just over 50mph and kept the three cars behind the truck at an average separation of 6m.

      You might as well blindfold the drivers in the convoy, because at 50mph their reaction time works out to at least twice the 6 meter interval between cars.
      Long story short, there is fuckall they could have done if something went wrong.

    • by MsWhich (2640815)

      The accident rate on highways is so low that 125 miles tells you nothing at all.

      I disagree. It tells you that the automated system will not instantly fail and cause the cars to drive into other cars/off the road/etc. Is that an acceptable substitute for long-term data involving thousands more miles and many more vehicles? No, but it will possibly allow for that data to now be collected, since they've demonstrated that the automated convoy isn't an instant death trap.

      Is it a PR stunt? Obviously. But PR stunts can be useful. And if this particular one gets us closer to the sci-fi dream

  • On the road, hell is other people.
  • Will this make them more exciting or less exciting. In the movies?
  • by DaneM (810927)

    This seems like a very cool idea, but I can't help but think that any system like this that goes "widespread" will be a prime target for crackers looking to do a little terrorism. Seeing as many public-use devices--pacemakers, and others that have been reported on Slashdot--utterly fail to be secure against such attacks--and since this one requires wireless receiving wireless signals in order to function, it's only a matter of time before an enterprising "cyberterrorist" decides to cause a pileup. Therefo

    • by DaneM (810927)

      Gotta love being modded "flamebait" for trying to talk seriously about something that occurs to me. :-(

      Thanks to those who replied (even those who disagree with me).

  • Given that the convoy depends on wireless communication, I wonder about its susceptibility to intentional jamming and hijacking.

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