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GPS-based road train – Click above for gallery

It goes by the name "Sartre," but it has nothing to do with existentialism and just a little bit to do with exits. The Safe Road Trains for the Environment program is a three-year European study centering on the creation of 'platoons' of drivers behind a lead vehicle on the highway. It involves wiring cars to speak to each other, and to a lead vehicle – the platoon commander – behind which up to eight cars could follow in automated bliss.

One of the keys to the study is finding a way to make travel more efficient and lower gas usage without spending the treasury on putting sensors in roads, or creating an entirely new standard of equipment. Also, using a lead vehicle that could take control of the vehicles behind – cars, trucks or buses – makes Sartre much more flexible since it can travel on any highway.

So say you need to get to the Alhambra in a hurry. You see a Sartre platoon on the highway ahead, and if there's room, you signal your wish to join. The lead vehicle takes control of your car, and it is pulled into the formation, leaving you free to do whatever you want to do. When you want to get out, you signal your intention, a gap is made and you get control of your car again. The study will be conducted on test tracks in Spain, Sweden and the UK, with additional trials on public road in Spain. Gentlemen, mount up... Hat tip to Ben!


  • The driver's sat-nav indicates that there is a road train ahead that is following some of his/her planned journey.
  • The driver approaches the road train, which is controlled by a professional driver at the front, and indicates that he/she wishes to join.
  • The road train takes control of the extra car, pulling it close to cut air drag and save about 20% in fuel consumption.
  • The drivers can relax until they wish to leave the road train, at which point they signal their intention to the driver at the front.
  • A bigger gap will be made to allow the car to leave and control of the vehicle will be returned to that driver.

[Source: BBC]


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  • 34 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      It only takes one Susie Soccer Mom merging into the "train" to cause a huge pile up wreck. To me, automation has to happen either at an extremely high percentage (>99%) or at an extremely small percentage. Otherwise, one variable screws up the entire system - the human.
        • 5 Years Ago
        From the description, the merging happens by computer.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Ban those soccer moms... or have super-license lanes where only people who pass a *Real* driving test are allowed to drive.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Shadyman: You miss the point.

        His comment was regarding some idiot soccer mom merging into the road train on her own, not under computer control, throwing off all the computers.
      • 5 Years Ago
      There we go again with the band aid fixes to what is fundamentally a huge logistics problem.

      This is the system we need to implement http://www.prtstrategies.com/
      on a national and then global system.

      It needs to be completely automated with consistency of design and engineering.
      I should welcome stop gap measures, but gridlock reminds us everyday what our
      shortcomings are.

      To put some perspective to our urgency: (rough figures from US CDC)

      Average deaths per year by Auto = 40,000 x last 10 years = 400,000 deaths
      Average deaths per year by Airplae = 2,000 x last 10 years - 20,000 deaths

      We really dont have to fear from terrorists. Statistically you'll die or be maimed by car.

      Our society deserves to spend time doing what it does well, whether twittering or being a soccer mom. Not steering a vehicle.



        • 5 Years Ago
        "will be TOTALLY cheap," - thats the most distorted argument car proponents use.
        it's very misleading, with a point-to-point PRT system we can eliminate

        1) traffic cops nationwide. (whats the savings on that?)
        2) traffic courts nationwide & its administration (whats the savings on that?)
        3) dept of motor vehicles nationwide (whats the savings on that?)
        4) car insurance nationwide (whats the savings on that?)
        5) roughly 3.5 million injuries per year (whats the savings on that?)
        6) repaving our roads over and over again (whats the savings on that?)
        7) 400,000 deaths last 10 years ( what is the price of your life? )


        "NOT HAVE THE POPULATION DENSITY TO SUPPORT RAIL." - You're mistaken again. This system is a point to point system with no bus stops in between. And no overpaid union driver. It's not a merry-go-round. It's an on demand system like a car.

        That's the whole point of an automated travel system that goes A-B without picking up other passengers. So yes it can be supported with any density. Cost will be calculated on use, like parcel, as it should be.

        Further more, we should be on a 5th-6th generation PRT that resembles the system in movie Minority Report. Sadly we've yet to truly begin.

        • 5 Years Ago
        Are you high? Yes, instead of using existing technology with existing cars to solve a problem, let's build a gigantic elevated rail system, which will be TOTALLY cheap, and let's magically forget that the USA does NOT HAVE THE POPULATION DENSITY TO SUPPORT RAIL.

        Global Population Density:

        http://www.catsg.org/cheetah/07_map-centre/7_1_entire-range/thematic-maps/global_population_density.jpg
      • 5 Years Ago
      The symbolism is sweet. In order to "save the planet", we should all abdicate control and follow a leader.

      • 5 Years Ago
      To those who commented on driving in the left lane; in Great Britain the left lane is the slow lane. You know with the driving on the wrong side of the road. (The source of this the BBC after all.)
      • 5 Years Ago
      Get that d@mn truck out of the left lane...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Aren't the driving directions reversed in Europe? If so, then the truck is in the correct lane.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Chubaka

        Wow, you really don't know much about the world. Europe drives on the same side as you Americans, with the exception of those crazy Brits.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sounds like the game Lemmings, but with cars :D

      Sounds cool until the person driving the lead vehicle falls asleep on a twisty mountain road :) Just like when your parents said, if a person leaps off a bridge, would you follow....well if you were in a Sartre convoy.....yes.
        • 5 Years Ago
        All good until somebody blows a tire.

        Or some moron cuts in front of the lead car.

        Or any of a host of other minor accidents that wouldn't otherwise matter.
        • 5 Years Ago
        there is always goods and bads. But if this works out, it would be a great leap in to the future technology. I just hope that this does not lead to self driving cars. than AB would have any articles about a Bugatti Veyron taking a swim.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This sounds like something ridiculous that California's CARB would dream up. Answering a question that no one was asking.
      • 5 Years Ago
      And when the platoon leader drives off the bridge...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Cool way to find out the lead driver is suicidal.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Did they forget not all cars are the same? What if a car has bad brakes and the driver doesn't know it? nor the the lead car? What if the lead car has to make a sudden stop and it signals all the cars the same but since that car has bad brakes it will cause a collision.
        • 5 Years Ago

        I would hope they think of that ahead of time. Your car might need to be Sartre certified before it is capable of joining the train. Maybe every oil change will now include additional checks to verify you are still compliant.

        Either that, or the Sartre device in your car has been configured with the size, weight, condition of your car, and the lead car will take that into account when it decides following distance, braking, and acceleration.

        Its a neat idea either way. This is more of a Jetson/Futurama thing, minus the tubes with the wooosh noises. Bring on the future.
        • 5 Years Ago
        That and we're seeing more and more cars with sensors that detect malfunctions within the car. Take the Escalade, for example, it can sense the psi in the tires and send e-mails to the owner when there's a problem. I'd like to think that as technology progresses, we'd see things like this in more and more vehicles.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sweet!
      • 5 Years Ago
      As Sartre said, "Hell is other people." Especially when they're on your tail.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I feel like the carpool lane was supposed to be similar to this idea...but it didn't work out that way. Interesting.

      Actually, when I'm low on gas, I get up close behind a big rig and draft with him. Does this have any effect on my mileage? I don't know, but I like to think so :P
        • 5 Years Ago
        Here are my very poor and unscientific test results

        Car- 2004 Acura TL New EPA rating 18/26 Old EPA 20/28

        100 mile drive, 70mph drafting Semi : 40mpg
        270 mile drive, 65mph no drafting: 35mpg
        270 mile drive, 65-70mph no to mild drafting of cars/semis: 34mpg
        270 mile drive, 70mph no drafting: 31mpg
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yes, it does. Mythbusters say so. Semi-trucks have been drafting each other for years and usually travel in convoys much like this one. The only difference being that truckers usually take turns leading.

        With computer controls, the convoy could be fairly close together, making for a nice fuel savings :)
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