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SARTRE: Technology for vehicles to drive themselves

By on January 5, 2010

Getting stuck in a traffic jam is the pits. You inch along, stop and go, continually deal with people cutting in and out and think about all the wasted, unproductive time you’ll never get back.

Sadly, traffic jams seem to be on the increase.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could flip a switch and let your truck take over the inch-along-in-traffic chore while you read a magazine, enjoy a leisurely snack or do all the text-messaging and cell-phone calling you’d care to do?

That scenario could become a reality as a result of a European Union project called SARTRE, for Safe Road Trains for the Environment. The project is developing technology for vehicles to enable them to drive themselves in long road trains on highways.

Basically, here’s how the technology would work: Vehicles will be fitted with a navigation system and a transmitter and receiver which will be used to communicate with each other.

The lead vehicle of each road train has full control over the other vehicles within the road train. Any one who wants to join the road simply pulls in behind the last vehicle.

To leave the train, a driver signals the lead driver, takes back control of his vehicle and exits off to one side. The vehicles remaining vehicles close the gap and continue on.

Aside from being able to make behind the wheel time more productive or relaxing (which would be great), such autonomous driving should produce fuel savings as the vehicles are closer together so there is lower air drag that normal — another bonus.

Road trains could also help shorten travel times and ease congestion.

One more wonder of applied technology.

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