And so it begins. The age of autonomous road vehicles may become a reality sooner than we think. If researchers at Volvo and the newly created SATRE project are correct we might have it within a decade.
Started last month, the SATRE project — or Safe Road Trains for the Environment — is an EU-backed initiative set on developing and testing technology for vehicles that can drive themselves. Key to this theory is what leaders are calling “road trains,” or groups of six to eight vehicles traveling on one route.
Each train has a lead vehicle with a person at the helm who knows the route very well, say, a bus or taxi driver. When drivers of the other vehicles need to get off at certain exit or take a turn, they simply retake control of their car and join another road train on the required route.
The advantages, SATRE managers say, are huge. It will improve fuel economy and lower the overall CO2 output of vehicles around the world thanks to the efficient drafting of vehicles only inches from each other. It is also pegged to improve traffic flow and shorten commuting time. Business can also be undertaken while on the move, because no human input is needed to drive.
Technological improvement will deal primarily with the vehicles themselves and not the existing roadway infrastructure, SATRE says. Navigation and transmitter systems control the acceleration, braking, and steering of the vehicles.
Though the concept is nothing new, the available and impending technology is. Past test runs of so-called autonomous vehicles were limited and could be considered fairly primitive compared to what SATRE has in mind.
Volvo is a main technology partner in the SATRE project and along with other partners believes such a way of travel is the future of transportation. Their test vehicles are slated to begin runs on closed tracks in 2011.
The whole idea of autonomous driving naturally conjures many serious questions. Do you believe this is the way of future transportation?