Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Road Trains: Like Autonomous Cars, but Different

Live Science writs about the public debut of SARTRE cars in Europe. Unlike Google's autonomous cars, the SARTRE cars communicate with each other and form 'road trains' that allow for semi-autonomous driving in certain situations. From the story:

Smart cars obediently followed the leader in the first public test for a futuristic "road train" concept. The idea of having networked cars follow a truck could pave the way for tomorrow's self-driving cars to drive together.
The recent test featured a Volvo XC60 compact crossover SUV, a Volvo V60 sports wagon, a Volvo S60 compact executive car and a truck allconnected wirelessly to a lead truck. Such networked "talking" allowed the cars to mimic the accelerating, braking and turning of the human driver in the truck — all while traveling at 53 mph (85 kilometers per hour) on a public highway in Spain.
I suspect that these technologies will be introduced prior to lots of fully autonomous cars entering the auto fleet. Highway driving is boring, and people may be happy to give it up. However, the proposed SARTRE road trains do require a human driver in the lead vehicle, which seems like a disincentive to adopt the technology by other drivers. After all, everyone thinks they are above average drivers. So who will lead the train?
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