By on May 29, 2012

Have you ever been driving behind some random stranger and just wished that person could take control of your car while you read a book? Me neither, but Europe is apparently full of people who are interested in doing just that. The EU’s Project SARTRE has pioneered the concept of “road trains” in public trials for about half a year now. Their latest test was the most ambitious yet — and it was apparently a complete succcess.

The Register reports that a Ricardo UK/Volvo SARTRE road train successfully negotiated a 125-mile course at speeds up to 50 miles per hour, encountering varying road conditions, grades, and crosswinds.

This video explains the tech behind it:

and more information can be found on the SARTRE homepage. Somewhat ironically, it could be argued that the technology would be far more appropriate for the United States, with its long freeway commutes, than for any European country. If the day ever comes to pass when SARTRE is a reality, look for a white 993 with the friendly bumper sticker: “Let Your Wife Join My Train”.

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44 Comments on “Volvo’s “Road Train” Runs 125 Miles Without Problems...”


  • avatar
    Robstar

    I can’t wait until this comes to motorcycles. Would just love to sit back on my gsx-r 600 while a computer controls it remotely!

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      As a sometimes motorcycle rider, I thought the point of a motorcycle was the raw experience of being man, machine, wind, pavement, and nothing else.

      What exactly would be the point of a self-riding motorcycle? Might as well trailer it behind your F-150, like so many of the sad unused highway-capeable motorcycles that I see trailered on the Interstate.

  • avatar
    nvdw

    “Have you ever been driving behind some random stranger and just wished that person could take control of your car while you read a book?”

    Yes, Jack, I did. Countless times.

    As much as I like driving, I wouldn’t mind being driven with 100+ miles of dreary freeway ahead of me.

    The only thing that bothers me is that the driver’s seat isn’t much cop at being a good place for some light reading or catching up on Game of Thrones. I still have that large steering wheel in front of me and I can’t stretch my legs, or at least not my right one without touching the pedals. If this system works in the real world, car interior design is about to take a major leap.

    There’s one other problem however – legislation. As with adaptive cruise control, there are some built-in shenanigans to prevent you from letting the car do all the work by applying a sort of ‘dead man’s switch’. In essence, rather than reading a book, you have your eyes back on the dreary freeway again…

  • avatar
    Zackman

    To paraphrase an old Southern Pacific Railroad ad slogan, I’d rather “Take it easy – Take the Train” – a real passenger train if we had enough of ’em.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      Careful, don’t you know that wishing for trains means, ipso facto, that you are in favor of banning cars from cities?

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Schwartz

        The real issue is that the US has the best railroad system in the world, but, outside of a couple of routes in the Northeast, it is a freight system. It would be a foolish waste of resources to try to turn the US rail system into a passenger system.

        Further, American cities are far too spread out and too far apart, to make point to point passenger rail service viable.

        It may work in Japan where an enormous population is concentrated in a narrow coastal plain, but not in the US. Deal with it.

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        Trains are a great way to get lots of people concentrated into a small area, like a camp.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        Just a bit testy and humor-challenged today, are we?

      • 0 avatar
        Chicago Dude

        “It would be a foolish waste of resources to try to turn the US rail system into a passenger system.

        Further, American cities are far too spread out and too far apart, to make point to point passenger rail service viable.”

        A real waste of resources is the expansion and/or building of brand-new airports.

        Chicago O’Hare is the number 1 driver of airline delays in the US. It runs at capacity and is so interconnected with all the other US airports that a simple gate delay at ORD radiates to half a dozen other cities immediately. You know how to fix it? Dozens of billions of dollars on a third Chicago airport and an expanded ORD.

        Or spend half that to upgrade existing REGIONAL rail connections to high speed rail. There are 11 flights per day between Chicago and Milwaukee. 18 minutes in the air. 23 flights per day between Chicago and St Louis. 45 minutes in the air.

        Flight “overhead” is on the order of about 2-3 hours. Add that to the flight time and rail beats it on a regional basis, leaving airports with plenty of capacity to add long-haul flights AND reduce delays.

        High speed REGIONAL rail pays for itself in savings elsewhere.

      • 0 avatar

        High speed REGIONAL rail pays for itself in savings elsewhere.

        In other words, it’s not self-sustainable. Then there’s the question as to who will be operating the trains, most likely some kind of government agency. At least when I fly, I have a choice of airlines and I can choose another carrier if I’m unhappy with the service that I get. Air travel is not a government monopoly. At least an airline will give out vouchers if your flight is delayed or canceled. You think a regional transportation authority will give refunds if the train is late?

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        @Ronnie Schreiber
        Why would the government have to operate the actual trains? One “carrier” could offer the service on contract after a round of public procurement or multiple carriers could compete on the same set of tracks. It works in parts of Europe and could probably work in the US, and why wouldn’t the “carrier” offer refunds if the train runs late? They do that in parts of Europe as well.
        So the actual tracks are owned by the government (state/local/federal) but is that really so different to the gov building airports and providing air control. For a 18min flight the time you spend getting felt up by “security” is probably longer than the time in the air, that makes semi-fast trains (say 120+ mph) seem like a pretty convenient option to me.

      • 0 avatar
        Chicago Dude

        Mr. Schreiber,

        Unless you fly enough to get yourself into the top-tier FF program at an airline, you are receiving nothing the airline isn’t required to give you by federal law. In fact, you are probably receiving less than the law requires – they get away with it because you don’t know the law.

        What makes you think that rail passengers won’t be entitled to the same government-forced hand outs that air passengers are given?

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    Better hope the system doesn’t get stuck on, or there will be No Exit.

  • avatar
    Travis

    I’m really confused as to why they’d have to develop technology in order to eat breakfast and read the newspaper while driving to work. Us Americans have been doing that for years without issues. Silly Eurofolk making things harder than they have to be.

  • avatar
    ott

    I can just see the future now… There I’ll be, sitting in my rocking chair, sipping a tepid glass of lemonade while nursing my bum knee and boring my grandkids with tales of how we used to CONTROL the cars that took us from A to B, sometimes for HOURS at a time! I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that most people would prefer to be in control of their car at ALL times. There are some things we as humans shouldn’t give up.

    If you don’t want to drive, buy a bus ticket.

    • 0 avatar
      stryker1

      Humans used to have to manually operate switch boards too.
      “most people would prefer to be in control of their car at ALL times.”

      Maybe if you live in BFE and drive under 10k miles a year. People who have real commutes in heavy traffic are going to be climbing over one another to throw money at anyone who promises to make this a reality for them.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      I like being chauffeured through traffic. I like driving, but not in the way other motorists and various tax feeders have conspired to make me do it.

      And I don’t think I’m that far ex mainstream, as it seems one of the things people for whom money is truly is no object indulge themselves, is a big ass car and a chauffeur.

      But there are those who prefer crossing the country in their own single engine, as opposed to in the back of a jetliner, as well. And others, like John Travolta, who prefer to actually fly their own jet liner.

      In general, though; morning commutes are best experienced conked out in luxurious, quiet, sleeping cabins. Of course, by the time that is a realistic option, so is the superior option of comfortable retirement……

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        If this technology could somehow be engineered to force John Trovolta to be in the cockpit of a jet line ALL the time I would happily start a fund to support it.

  • avatar
    mcs

    They seem to be assuming that every vehicle in the train has the same level of maintenance and stopping capability. What happens when the car behind you has nearly bald tires, brake rotors that have seen better days, and it’s raining? The same situation when some vehicles might have all seasons vs. some cars having Blizzaks. The lead vehicle might be assuming a certain stopping distance for a particular vehicle, but guess what. What happens when vehicles that aren’t part of the train start cutting in and suddenly some vehicles are part of the train, but some aren’t.

    It sounds like typical designer myopia where they assume some perfect world. Great for the pages of Popular Science/Mechanics, but you’ll never see it in the real world.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      Within 20 years such systems will be optional. Within 30 years they will be mandatory.

    • 0 avatar
      stryker1

      get ready for brake/tire wear monitors on top of your tire pressure systems. If the subsystems don’t pass start-up inspection, the train system becomes unavailable.

      These are engineering challenges, hard ones maybe, but not impossible

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      When I was a kid, we once set up a sled ‘train’ on a snowy day, laying down with our feet hooked into the sled behind each person. The lead sled took about ten of us over a steep hill into a briar patch and on top of each other.

      I’d prefer not to do that at 60 mph with an expensive car, just so I can save a nickel on gas.

      This is really just socialized hypermiling.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    I see this approach as a stop-gap measure. A real robotic car road train would have all the cars running inches away from each other, or downright latched to each other, in order to draft the air stream. The potential fuel savings could be pretty significant.

    This is the inevitable evolution of the robot-driven-car. We are on the cusp of a huge revolution.

  • avatar

    Can’t believe they went with SARTRE as the name instead of CAMUS.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    This looks like a funeral cortege for The Road, literally and figuratively.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    The dude in the lead truck isn’t totally immune to rubbernecking or checking out babes working a clutch in mini skirts.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Agreed on your point.

      I don’t see Americans going for this freedom-limiting technology. We want to be able to dodge deer and put our cars in a ditch at our own discretion, not be stuck in a ‘train’ of cars.

      Volvo was also working on the pedestrian air bag scam: https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/volvo-debuts-pedestrian-airbag-can-we-have-attractive-car-design-now/

      If Volvo wants to sell more cars in the US, they need to focus more on cars and value and less on technology that American culture doesn’t care about.

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        Yes being behind a truck (a european one that can take some load on the axles and pack some weight, not some measly Mack) I think the option of being able to dodge a dear is paramount. It’s not like the dear will be crushed when it interferes with the truck.

        Shi*s and giggles aside, I can’t see how the option of doing less is somehow limiting freedom. If Americans where so infatuated with driving and considered being in charge of the machine they are riding in as something important, the why are cruise control and automatics so popular?

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        @MeaCulpa:

        You’re mistaking laziness and/or convenience for surrendering freedom. If you want to see how popular the Volvo Train would be in the US, just look at the American passenger train system.

        Passenger miles have dropped from a high of 98 billion in 1944 to 15 billion in 2000, while the population has doubled. That’s a drop of 92%.

        The only thing worse than riding a train is making your car act like one.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    In ’97, an automated ‘train’ program was implemented in San Diego that used inter-car communications that organized cars in tight formation at speed. It used in-car radar and sensed magnets embedded in the roadway itself to steer/center the up to 8 car ‘trains’ within the lane.

    Despite the techical success of PATH, investment moved more towards autonomous intelligent vehicles rather than building specialized infrastructure. PATH ‘trains’ didn’t depend on a human lead driver or conductor, let’s say, but would’ve packed in more cars and kept the flow moving smooth and efficient.

    • 0 avatar
      stryker1

      Makes sense. No reason this “train” behavior couldn’t just be speed/following distance optimization for clusters of otherwise autonomous cars that all know that they’re “smart”

  • avatar
    KixStart

    It’s a perfectly logical extension of the autonomous car developments. Why not tuck in reasonably close and save some fuel? The cars are going to sense velocity changes in the train at radar speed, so this should be perfectly workable. The Volvo concept using a human-piloted lead vehicle is nice but I’m hoping it’s already obsolete.

  • avatar
    Slab

    If this comes to pass, I hope they limit the number of vehicles in a train. A few weeks ago, I went to the office on a Saturday. There were some motorcycles in the middle lane going about 55. No big deal, I thought. I’ll just get in the left lane and pass. But the line of motorcycles went on and on. I was about a mile and a half from my exit, and I couldn’t see an end in sight. I took it up to about 75 and was able to squeek back over just in time for my exit.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    RE: Jack’s caption on the first picture.

    Come on ride the train, take a ride…

  • avatar
    Syke

    Actually, there are times when I wish this was possible: My annual trip from Richmond, VA to Bangor, ME to visit the mother-in-law. Get on I-95, set the system in motion, and pull up a good book for the next sixteen hours, including gas stops.

    Of course, my willingness to accept this idea is predicated on having the right to switch it off and put my hands on the wheel whenever I want to.

    • 0 avatar
      slance66

      Which is why this is nothing like cruise control. I love cruise control, it saves my knees, which do not like being locked in place for hours on end. But I only use it in stretches.

      Trains are fantastic if you are going from a city to a city, and on the destination end can get where you need to go without a car. Taking a train to NY from Boston, where cabs and subways get you anywhere, is an easy choice. Train travel elsewhere hasn’t been effective in the U.S. because at most destinations, you still need a car.

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