'Road Train' Autopilot Driving System Cuts Fuel Consumption, Travel Time

road train sensor automated driving image

Image via Earth2Tech

It's one of those ideas that crosses your mind while you're stuck in never-ending stop and go traffic on some ugly stretch of the highway: what if there were some sort of a sensor that could put all of those cars into lockstep? Some sort of automated driving system that would keep that SOB from cutting you off and wedging himself into your lane--something that would make the whole process more efficient, help control the traffic flow, and even let you take your hands off the wheel for long stretches of road.

Well, a test version of exactly that is underway in Europe--it's called the 'road train', and it could revolutionize highway driving.It might sound like a fantasy, but the EU has commissioned a multi-year trial of a kind of technology that would allow cars to sync up via sensor in lines behind 'leader' cars (which would be driven by professional drivers). Automated controls would take over, and you'd follow the leader, free to take your hands off the wheel, until you've gone your desired distance.

View & Vote: Which Gas Guzzler is the Worst? Cast Your Vote!
Earth2Tech reports:

Backed by the European Commission, a research team led by Ricardo UK and dubbed SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) has launched a 3-year trial of this "road train" technology, in which a lead driver controls a convoy of up to seven wirelessly-linked vehicles, as part of an effort to slash fuel consumption by up to 20 percent per vehicle, reduce travel times and minimize congestion
Here's how it would work (Images via the BBC)


Your car would be equipped with a navigation system that would alert you when there was a Road Train ahead that was covering some or all of your journey


You'd approach the train, and send a message out that you'd like to join.


The road train takes control of your car, pulling close and into auto pilot--close enough avoid enough air drag to save up to 20% in fuel consumption.


Now you sit back, kick your feet up on the dash, and wait until your stint on the highway is through--at which point you send out a signal . . .


. . . and the automated controls widen the gap between the cars behind and in front of you, and you take over driving controls.

Research will continue for three years, with tests run in the UK and Sweden, and eventually public road tests in Spain. If successful, the road train idea could seriously reduce travel time, fuel consumption, emissions, and invariably, road rage.

Planet 100: Hummer Joins the List of Top 5 Gas Guzzling Dinosaurs (Video)
More on Driving Efficiency
Convenient Truths: Driving Your Way to Lower Carbon Emissions
Boost Your Vehicles Efficiency for Free with Garmin ecoRoute

Related Content on Treehugger.com