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Road Train Completes First Trials In Sweden

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the all-aboard dept.

Transportation 345

Hugh Pickens writes "BBC reports technology that links vehicles into 'road trains' that can travel as a semi-autonomous convoy has undergone its first real world tests with trials held on Volvo's test track in Sweden. Researchers believe platoons of cars could be traveling on Europe's roads within a decade cutting fuel use, boosting safety and may even reducing congestion. SARTRE researchers say that around 80% of accidents on the road are due to human error so using professional lead drivers to take the strain on long journeys could, they say, see road accidents fall. They also predict fuel efficiency could improve by as much as 20% if 'vehicle platooning' takes off, with obvious benefits for the environment. 'An automated system is likely to make it safer as it takes away driver error but it would have to be 100% reliable,' says John Franklin 'This kind of system would also require a complete change in motoring culture for drivers to hand over control.'"

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345 comments

80% due to human error? (3, Interesting)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937692)

That figure seems a bit low. Unless an animal runs across the road or similar, other problems are all IMO human error.

If something falls off a truck, that's human error for not securing the load properly. If high winds knock over your truck, that's human error for driving in dangerous conditions. If you skid on an ice patch, that's your error for driving too fast for the conditions, etc.

Re:80% due to human error? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34937720)

20% down to toyota brakes?

Re:80% due to human error? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34937724)

True, those were disigned by slanty eyed nonhumans.

Re:80% due to human error? (4, Informative)

orphiuchus (1146483) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937722)

Tire blowouts, serpentine belt breaks, break cylinders exploding. Sometimes its a maintenance issue, but a lot of the time things just fail. I had the rear cylinder explode on a vehicle I was driving at highway speeds like 10 years ago, I just barely managed to stop myself with the hand-break on the shoulder without running into the stopped traffic ahead of me, but if I had hit then 100% of my accidents ever would have been caused by mechanical failure with no forewarning.

Re:80% due to human error? (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937744)

Okay this is true, but do you really think that failures on well maintained cars is the cause of 1 in 5 accidents, or even 1 in 10? I'd think it was more like 1 in 1000.

Re:80% due to human error? (1)

orphiuchus (1146483) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937770)

I cant say for sure, but for me its 100%. (or it would be, if I'd had the accident.). For fatal accidents I imagine about 80% are either falling asleep at the wheel, alcohol related, or typical young male dumb shit, the remaining 20% could easily be caused by high speed blowouts and things of that nature.

For overall accidents I'm inclined to agree with you, the vast majority of what I see is caused by young women talking on cell phones, but those are usually very minor. Talking about lives lost I think the 80-20 figure is pretty realistic.

Re:80% due to human error? (2)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937924)

For high speed accidents then unexpected failures would probably count for more (though I still think that 1 in 5 is giving people too much credit). Even at lower speeds though, there's still serious danger of maiming or killing pedestrians, so even those women on their cell phones are a danger.

I was taught that basically all accidents are human error. This page [smartmotorist.com] claims it's at least 95%. Too many people try to blame external factors when in fact the accident was avoidable. I really don't like to hear that someone crashed "because it was raining/icy/snowy". They crashed because they were driving too fast for the conditions.

Re:80% due to human error? (1)

Tom (822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938152)

I cant say for sure, but for me its 100%.

Calculating a percentage value for a single data point is slightly bonkers.

Re:80% due to human error? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34938570)

It would be bonkers to extrapolate from a single data point, but it's not bonkers to say what the percentage value is at this point in time, for him personally.

Re:80% due to human error? (1)

Tom (822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938056)

It happens, but it is the exception, not the rule. In 20 years of driving experience, I have not once experienced a mechanical failure that would've resulted in an accident. I have seen a lot, and I mean several orders of magnitude, more driver errors than car failures. So while switching the human driver for an automated system only exchanges one source of errors for the other, yes, it does exchange one source with a fairly high rate of errors against one with a fairly low rate of errors.

Re:80% due to human error? (1)

The_Noid (28819) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938222)

I've had a back tyre run on of the flange in a sharp turn. The valve was leaking and the low pressure in the tyre combined with the sideways forces due to the sharp turn caused the tyre to run off. This caused me to lose control over the vehicle and swerve over the other lane. I didn't hit anything fortunately, and due to the relatively low speeds involved it probably would not have resulted in a fatal accident if I had hit oncoming traffic.

It was definitely caused by mechanical failure. but at the same time I probably should have spotted the low pressure in the tyre (though I don't know how fast the valve was leaking).
At the same time, a computer might have been better at controlling the vehicle than me.

All in all I would love to be able to drive to the nearest highway and give control over from that point on.

Re:80% due to human error? (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938408)

Lucky you. I've had a throttle stick (due to shaft wear on a carburetor) and on a different car I've had a brake master cylinder seal fail. Neither event resulted in an accident because I reacted appropriately, but they certainly could have. I do tend to agree with you though -- the vast majority of accidents are due to human error.

Re:80% due to human error? (1)

Mr_Plattz (1589701) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938406)

Although valid points, you're still inserting invalid and virtual road blocks that don't need to exist.

Let's assume the future cars are electric -- no cylinders.
Let's install run-flats with censors that allows it to cleanly exit a train.
Let's enforce a minimum satefy standard to allow the car to participate in the train (last service passed OK and was less than x KM's)

In other words, the Internet probably wouldn't exist in the state it is in today if people like you were present in the design meetings.

Re:80% due to human error? (1)

ZankerH (1401751) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938512)

I don't know, comparing IT security measures to "the minimal required safety so people don't die horribly in their cars due to mechanical failures" seems kind of a stretch of me.

Re:80% due to human error? (0)

fridaynightsmoke (1589903) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937760)

So, what probability of a gust of wind strong enough to topple a truck would you consider it acceptable for truckers to drive in? 10%? 0.01%? If there is a freak gust on a calm day, is that driver error too? Below what temperature would you consider that all drivers should drive as though the road is 100% icy? -1c? 2c?

Re:80% due to human error? (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937840)

Freak gusts no, but I've never experienced such things here in the UK. Maybe in other climates that's more likely, but it's still not going to account for a lot of accidents.

My car used to give an ice warning when temperatures reached 4 degrees C (yes, above zero). Presumably that was to account for microclimates in dips in the road, etc. It doesn't make too much difference on straights, but you obviously have to be careful at corners, and if there are cars in front of you. You should at least be driving as if it were raining.

Re:80% due to human error? (1)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937982)

If I remember correctly, 4C is the point where water is at its densest. Below that temperature, water starts to expand again as the molecules begin to arrange themselves in an ice-like formation. It's due to the fact that the temperature of a substance is never absolutely uniform, with some parts being hotter and others cooler. It's the same reason that you get steam coming off a hot cup of water that is nevertheless below 100C.

The other factor is that most people in the UK use summer tyres all year round, which don't provide the same level of grip at 4C that they do at higher temperatures.

The only crash I've ever had was due to an oil spill, which I hit at night and couldn't see. I've also driven on roads where the road surface suddenly deteriorated and grip reduced drastically, causing me to skid. I'm not sure if these count as 'human error' or not. If I drove in anticipation of these conditions all the time, I'd never get anywhere.

Re:80% due to human error? (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938038)

True. I don't think those count as driver error, but you could still say it's human error for not keeping the roads clean and in good condition! Also it helps to keep a cool head if the conditions go downhill. Sudden control inputs are much more likely to make you skid than smooth ones. That's much easier said than done when you're not expecting it though obviously. I'm gradually improving, so if the car ever skids when I brake these days, I'm getting the confidence to lift off and re-apply since it often allows you to regain directional control (even if your car has ABS this can still be useful..). When I was 19 I was driving down a dirt track and went straight off by panic braking before a corner :P

Causes vs circumstances (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937866)

Usually, too much importance is given to the immediate cause of an accident. Most accidents don't happen due to a single cause, there's a number of circumstances that must exist together for an accident to happen.

In modern highways, the usual circumstance for most accidents is crowded lanes. The usual cause for crowded lanes is a few dumbasses of the i-hate-tailgaters-and-i-have-the-right-to-drive-at-any-speed-below-the-limit species.

Make it a severe offense, same penalties as drunken driving, to drive on the left lane with someone behind you and those "80% accidents" will go away.

Re:Causes vs circumstances (2)

orphiuchus (1146483) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937898)

Usually, too much importance is given to the immediate cause of an accident. Most accidents don't happen due to a single cause, there's a number of circumstances that must exist together for an accident to happen.

In modern highways, the usual circumstance for most accidents is crowded lanes. The usual cause for crowded lanes is a few dumbasses of the i-hate-tailgaters-and-i-have-the-right-to-drive-at-any-speed-below-the-limit species.

Make it a severe offense, same penalties as drunken driving, to drive on the left lane with someone behind you and those "80% accidents" will go away.

Make it a severe offense to tailgate and you get the same solution, plus its the assholes instead of the timid that you would be punishing.

I get it when someone is going 55 in the left lane, that's insanity, but the vast majority of people whom I know that think like this are usually going 15 over the speed limit and riding the ass of the guy going 5 over. The tailgaters and aggressive drivers are the ones who cause fatalities.

Re:Causes vs circumstances (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937996)

This is true, but it's still frustrating for those of us that are attentive and efficient in our driving, to be stuck behind some guy that is being far, far too cautious. There are times when you need to be cautious, and there are times when it's basically completely safe to be doing 100mph (outside of an "act of God" like an unforeseeable mechanical failure), and so for someone not to even be doing the posted limit is just needlessly frustrating those behind. The driver behind may have too short a temper, and these days I try hard to just chill if there is no opportunity to pass - but the fact remains that slow drivers do agitate people, and this results in accidents. We need a higher standard of driving from everybody.

I especially dislike when people break the speed limit on a straight road, but then take 5 times longer than I would on a junction. This is often because they approach it too fast, so don't have time to accurately judge which gaps they can enter, either that or they don't even check for gaps until their car has come to a complete stop. Even when I'm obeying the speed limit, I often overtake these speeders just because I'm more attentive at roundabouts, crawling up to them at 5-10mph and taking gaps as soon as I see them, while the other guys are stuck at a standstill and so would take too long to get moving to be able to take the gap. Then of course the speeders blast past me on the next straight, and the cycle repeats.

Another one that really makes me facepalm is people who say do 50 in a 60 limit, and then when they enter a 30 limit they're doing 40. If they're worried about doing 60, how in hell do they think they are going to be able to react to a pedestrian stepping out in front of them at 40?

Re:Causes vs circumstances (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938010)

Make it a severe offense to tailgate and you get the same solution

It would not be the same solution because the road would me more crowded overall.

Assume one person doing 55 starts passing another doing 54. In order to avoid tailgating altogether, everybody in a long stretch would have to slow down. If someone is driving slowly in front of you, you have to drive even slower until the space between your cars increase to a safe distance. The driver behind you would be forced to drive slower than you to get the same safe distance between you and him. And so on, the rest follows by induction.

Do the math and find how many drivers who are "safe" by the "tailgaters are evil" principle it takes for the traffic to stop completely.

The tailgaters and aggressive drivers are the ones who cause fatalities.

It takes two to tailgate, a tailgater and a tailgatee. As I said, accidents usually aren't caused by one single cause, in most cases if just one of a set of circumstances didn't happen there would be no accident.

The driver who starts a tailgating incident is the one who drives slowly on the left lane. If you want to blame only *one* person, blame the one who started it all.

Re:Causes vs circumstances (5, Insightful)

Zironic (1112127) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938180)

You fail at both driving and physics. To get a safe distance to the car infront of you you only need to slow down for 5 seconds at most then you can match speed with car infront of you, there is no recursive slow down for the entire road.

"It takes two to tailgate, a tailgater and a tailgatee. As I said, accidents usually aren't caused by one single cause, in most cases if just one of a set of circumstances didn't happen there would be no accident."

That's like saying it takes two to punch someone, the puncher and the punchee. It's retarded. There exists none, zero, zip, nada excuse to tailgate. There exists no situation where you're better off tailgating the person infront of you, you don't even get to your destination faster.

And for the record it is already illegal in most of the world to drive slow in the left lane (Usually under some law conserning disrupting traffic ) however that only applies if he's driving slower then the limit, if you think that's to slow then that's your problem. However there's never really any reason to go faster, suppose you drive at 110 on a 100 mph road, now your 30 minute trip takes 27 minutes, who cares? Those 3 minutes are a rounding error of your day.

Re:Causes vs circumstances (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34938566)

Stay right except to pass is just as much of a law as following too closely. If you see someone behind you approaching it is your legal responsibility to move right.

Sounds familiar... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34937700)

Road trains? Like the one in Inception?

On a more serious note, how would Platooning work? Is it like a bus stop? If so, cars need to be able to enter and exit in any order. I call fail.

Re:Sounds familiar... (1)

s0litaire (1205168) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938296)

More like City to city.
Probably would be scheduled stops (humans still need toilet / food breaks) in major cities to let cars leave and to pick up new ones...
in future they might have options to join and leave at will.

This is so 1970s (2)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937706)

An engineering lecturer at Cambridge was proposing something like this in the early 1970s, but with vehicles having a mechanical connection - inherently safer because sudden braking would merely load up a damper, not cause an impact.

The problem where the UK is concerned is that motorways are actually our safest roads - it's people like the idiot woman this morning in the Range Rover who think that size overrides the Highway Code that present the problem, and this doesn't address it.

Re:This is so 1970s (1)

slim (1652) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937732)

it's people like the idiot woman this morning in the Range Rover who think that size overrides the Highway Code that present the problem, and this doesn't address it.

On motorways it might -- because the idiot woman would join a road train for selfish reasons (reduction in fuel costs; ability to relax rather than drive), and hence would do a couple of hundred miles without the opportunity to drive badly.

Re:This is so 1970s (1)

ledow (319597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937778)

She drives a Range Rover. Fuel costs won't be on her mind. In fact, judging by the average driver, anything to get someone to their destination quicker will be welcomed, not deliberately running in the most fuel-efficient way - I get much more efficiency at 50mph, how many people do that speed on a major motorway?

Re:This is so 1970s (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938076)

I am sure it will be even better if you drive 40mph and even better with 30, 20, ... all the way to zero. So why not drive 30mph? I am sure 2 wheels will be more fuel efficient as well. So take a moped and drive 10mph if fuel efficiency is what is important to you.

Re:This is so 1970s (2)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938138)

I am sure it will be even better if you drive 40mph and even better with 30, 20, ... all the way to zero. So why not drive 30mph? I am sure 2 wheels will be more fuel efficient as well. So take a moped and drive 10mph if fuel efficiency is what is important to you.

No, nearly all cars drop in fuel efficiency below 20mph. I can't find more recent information but it looks like many cars are most fuel efficient at somewhere between 30 and 55 mph [wikipedia.org], have a quite flat consumption in that range, and drop off below this fairly quickly and above this rather more slowly.

Re:This is so 1970s (1)

Zironic (1112127) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938242)

Actually fuel efficiency is worse at lower speeds, but don't let facts get in your way or anything.

Re:This is so 1970s (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938306)

Use your horn. Make sure these people know their driving is crap. If it happens regularly enough eventually they might stop.

I dream of a day (1)

fridaynightsmoke (1589903) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937710)

Perhaps one day we could have automated platoons of Slashdot submissions about the same damn thing, too?

Re:I dream of a day (2)

Eudial (590661) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937762)

Perhaps one day we could have automated platoons of Slashdot submissions about the same damn thing, too?

The last submission was about SARTRE before the tests started. This is the results.

Re:I dream of a day (2)

CheerfulMacFanboy (1900788) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938054)

Perhaps one day we could have automated platoons of Slashdot submissions about the same damn thing, too?

The last submission was about SARTRE before the tests started. This is the results.

Ohh? http://tech.slashdot.org/story/11/01/18/0411235/How-Europe-Will-Lower-Emissions-mdash-Self-Driving-Cars [slashdot.org] (2 days old)

The team behind SARTRE has now conducted its first real world test, using a sole Volvo S60 sedan that followed a lead truck around the automaker's test facility near Gothenburg, Sweden. In the video, the driver is free to take his eyes off the road and his hands off the wheel. In fact, he uses neither his hands nor feet during the test.

And yes, it's the same fucking video. DUPE.

Never going to work in a litigious society (5, Insightful)

orphiuchus (1146483) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937712)

One of my engineering professors worked on something like this in the 90s, when I asked him why we never saw anything like this come into use he said that they knew that the first time anyone was killed in an accident involving one of the automated vehicles the entire project would be dead. Regardless of if it was from something like a blowout causing a computer driven car to swerve into the other lane, or some drunk ramming headlong into a "platoon" of cars.

Even if it is much safer, the lawyers will be salivating while they wait for the first death.

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34937782)

One of my engineering professors worked on something like this in the 90s, when I asked him why we never saw anything like this come into use he said that they knew that the first time anyone was killed in an accident involving one of the automated vehicles the entire project would be dead. Regardless of if it was from something like a blowout causing a computer driven car to swerve into the other lane, or some drunk ramming headlong into a "platoon" of cars.

Even if it is much safer, the lawyers will be salivating while they wait for the first death.

Dunning-Kruger at work?

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (1)

orphiuchus (1146483) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937828)

I don't think so, the project worked fairly well as I understand it (remember that video from the 90s in California or Nevada where they were testing the things? It must have been on a nova or something, but I cant find it on youtube), but they knew all along that there was just no way to take it to market because of the liability.

If the thing hadn't worked then maybe, but the fear of lawsuits(and I should reiterate, it was the early 90s so the chances of a system failure killing someone wasn't insignificant) preempted any attempt to put the system into use.

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (1)

scdeimos (632778) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938298)

They were doing automated road trains on the autobahn in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Was covered in a program called Beyond 2000. Like yourself, though, I haven't been able to find a video on it.

I'm going to agree with GP, though... in a society where people think it's ok to sue the pants off of somebody because they ran out of chicken mcnuggets, no sane manufacturer is going to start mass producing self-driving vehicles of any form.

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (4, Insightful)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937856)

The protocol for leaving the platoon and returning manual control to the driver is going to be the most difficult thing to solve I think, particularly where it occurs in a emergency situation. A blowout on the motorway is dangerous enough, but a blowout on the motorway where control of a car is suddenly returned to a driver in the middle of drinking a coffee and reading a newspaper could be disastrous.

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34937874)

"80% Human error" are usually the same humans that won't want this system. Someone who drives while tired or drunk or willingly goes over the speed limit or takes stupid chances aren't really concerned about their safety or of anyone else on the road.

Want to make roads safer? Take away their licence, throw them in jail. It's cheaper, faster and safer that way. After a decade, you'll have a fresh crop of drivers far more careful about their driving.

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (1)

orphiuchus (1146483) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937914)

"80% Human error" are usually the same humans that won't want this system. Someone who drives while tired or drunk or willingly goes over the speed limit or takes stupid chances aren't really concerned about their safety or of anyone else on the road.

Want to make roads safer? Take away their licence, throw them in jail. It's cheaper, faster and safer that way. After a decade, you'll have a fresh crop of drivers far more careful about their driving.

Isn't that a little extreme? Plus, throwing 80% of the drivers involved in accidents in jail for life probably isn't cheaper than, say, just fining them and making them go to bad driver's school like we do now.

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (4, Insightful)

timholman (71886) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938088)

Even if it is much safer, the lawyers will be salivating while they wait for the first death.

I think the fear of lawsuits preventing autonomous vehicles is way overblown.

Historically, the auto industry has had several design flaws that have led to huge lawsuits, e.g. exploding gas tanks on the Ford Pinto. Ford's gas tank design led to numerous deaths and injuries, and corporate memos later showed that the company was even aware of the problem, yet Ford was not sued out of business. Even today, with all the fuss and lawsuits concerning Toyota's computer systems, Toyota is doing just fine. Lawsuits are part of the cost of doing business in the auto industry.

The technology being used in autonomous vehicle research was, by modern standards, painfully primitive 20 or 30 years ago. I could see how people would fear legal liability, because those older systems weren't smart enough to deal with every contingency in a roadway environment. Today's research vehicles are much better, and in ten years they'll be even better still.

The question to ask is this: can autonomous vehicles do better than 35,000+ fatalities, 2 million+ injuries, and $200B+ in liability / medical costs per year? That's what the U.S. alone is paying right now with humans behind the wheel. 20 years ago, engineers knew their vehicles weren't robust enough for the roadway. As Google's own experiments have recently shown, things are much different now.

There's no doubt that autonomous vehicles will fail from time to time, and occasionally someone will be injured. But fatalities from a well-engineered system will be rare, and the roadways will be orders of magnitude safer. The fear of autonomous vehicles is basically a classic example of flawed risk perception by human beings - they are uncomfortable with a few hundred possible auto accidents with a computer in control, yet think nothing of millions of accidents with the current system because they all think "I'm in control of the situation".

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (4, Insightful)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938154)

The question to ask is this: can autonomous vehicles do better than 35,000+ fatalities, 2 million+ injuries, and $200B+ in liability / medical costs per year? That's what the U.S. alone is paying right now with humans behind the wheel

That is the sensible question, but in reality it would have to be much safer to be accepted. We see this when there are train crashes. A train is already hundreds of times safer than a car but there are public inquiries, people brought to book and calls for improvement when they happen.

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34938532)

I think the airline industry is a better example. There's a constant stream of low level suspicion against automation in the media, and if an accident ends up involving the automation systems, they love it. If automation helps in a bad situation, it's never reported.

Meanwhile, if a mechanical system fails, the press only sensationalizes the accident in general, with no thought going to stupid suggestions about having fewer mechanical parts.

No one cares that the software has saved more people from pilot error than bugs have killed (if any), or that most bugs have been fairly benign compared to mechanical failures. No, automation is an evil black box of magic that no honest hard working person like yourself could understand, and the righteous pilot should micromanage everything.

Now imagine this situation in an industry where most buyers have a choice in which car to buy, rather than being mostly ignorant about the exact aircraft their airline is using.

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (3, Insightful)

Max Romantschuk (132276) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938090)

Even if it is much safer, the lawyers will be salivating while they wait for the first death.

There is a good reason why this project is sponsored by the EU and not the US.

While not perfect, the legal systems in most of Europe aren't not quite as broken as in the US.

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34938112)

There is a reason US innovation has begun a slow march backward. You'd have to be out of your gourd to bring anything new to market in the States, these days.

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (4, Interesting)

hypertex (165243) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938372)

Even if it is much safer, the lawyers will be salivating while they wait for the first death.

There is a good reason why this project is sponsored by the EU and not the US.

While not perfect, the legal systems in most of Europe aren't not quite as broken as in the US.

There were tests of this in California in the 1991 timeframe but I don't know if it was the State or the Feds. A train of 5 white cars would assemble at speed on interstate 15 between Palm Springs and San Diego. With only inches in between, the train would travel back and forth on the freeway . Perhaps another can find a record of this as my Google-fu is not adequate.

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (1)

hypertex (165243) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938428)

blindness must be setting in, this is mentioned several posts above. At least I wasn't dreaming this memory up.

Re:Never going to work in a litigious society (1)

Tom (822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938134)

Which is probably why this system is being developed in Europe, where the term "ambulance-chasing lawyer" is strongly associated with american lawyers, because we don't have the same kind of liability craze over here.

WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE ?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34937714)

Jesus H. Rodriguez !! Is this some sort of sick joke ?? The Dark Side that enticing ??

Less driver attention == lower safety? (2, Insightful)

pmontra (738736) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937738)

You can trust the system, but the system doesn't know what's happening to your car. It knows what's happening to the leading truck. Suppose that a car in the convoy has a failure, a blown tire, anything that makes it slow down or change trajectory (maybe some bump or hole in the road). How do following cars avoid it if their drivers are sleeping, reading a book, having lunch? I know that people start car accidents while they are driving (texting, playing with music controls, having lunch) but I wonder if road trains are really safer than an equivalent number of cars each with its own driver. I think that this [4x4truckstrailers.com] is the only safe road train.

Re:Less driver attention == lower safety? (2)

Anonymusing (1450747) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937848)

You can trust the system, but the system doesn't know what's happening to your car. It knows what's happening to the leading truck. Suppose that a car in the convoy has a failure, a blown tire, anything that makes it slow down or change trajectory (maybe some bump or hole in the road). How do following cars avoid it if their drivers are sleeping, reading a book, having lunch?

Exactly. Or maybe it's not a failure, per se, but something as simple as running out of gas? Is the system going to communicate all this information to the lead driver? Is that driver going to be responsible for alerting individual drivers that they need to jump out of the train to fuel up? Will the train just automatically pull into rest areas/gas stations and have *everyone* fuel up?

These are not insurmountable questions, but they do suggest a slower adoption rate (or smaller market) for the technology.

Re:Less driver attention == lower safety? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34937920)

Why can't each vehicle communicate these data with its convoy peers? Sounds both technically trivial and highly useful, no?

If the lead car dies, the cars behind could actually *coordinate* their evasion, even if it's something as simple as "car A breaks right, car B breaks left, car C breaks right, car D breaks left" to give a pretty and evasive fishbone that humans would never do.

And fuel is just a special case of leaving the convoy, which the system must handle ad-hoc to even get past alpha testing.

Re:Less driver attention == lower safety? (1)

Tom (822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938118)

You are being ridiculous. There is no reason for the probability of someone driving in a road train running out of gas being any higher than the same for someone driving normally. With the system in place as described in the video, this would result in one car slowing down, those behind if following suit (distance sensors!) until the link to the lead car gets lost. At which point you are in the common situation of dissolving/leaving the road train, which there will have to be a solution for anyways.

Re:Less driver attention == lower safety? (1)

Anonymusing (1450747) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938220)

You are being ridiculous. There is no reason for the probability of someone driving in a road train running out of gas being any higher than the same for someone driving normally.

Except that if the driver is reading the paper or watching TV instead of paying attention to the car, they are less likely to notice their level of gas.

Do you disagree that letting drivers become more passive could introduce more situations like this?

Re:Less driver attention == lower safety? (1)

PseudonymousBraveguy (1857734) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938150)

I'd bet all those cars have to be equipped with active ACC (adaptive cruise control) systems. Those use radar or lidar, and sometimes other optical systems, to determine speed of and distance to other cars, and can actively control the speed of your car accordingly. Those are commercially available since over 10 years, so sudden deceleration of idividal members of such a train would not have any serious consequences.

I'd guess if somebody has to fuel up, the driver has to manually pull his car out of the train, while the rest of the trains continues the travel.

Re:Less driver attention == lower safety? (2)

Tom (822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938100)

Suppose that a car in the convoy has a failure, a blown tire, anything that makes it slow down or change trajectory (maybe some bump or hole in the road). How do following cars avoid it if their drivers are sleeping, reading a book, having lunch?

RTFA. It's even embedded. They do say that they have a system in place monitoring the road, the distance to the car in front, etc. They are not just blindly sending instructions from the lead car and executing them.

but I wonder if road trains are really safer than an equivalent number of cars each with its own driver.

Statistically speaking, if the average chance of a driver having an accident is 1% (it isn't, but it's easier to calculate with simple numbers), then 10 individual cars will have a total probability of 9.562% of at least one car having an accident. The road train will have a probability of 1%. The risks associated with driving in a road train (failure of the system, etc.) would have to raise the accident probability by a full order of magnitude to make it more risky.

Re:Less driver attention == lower safety? (1)

PseudonymousBraveguy (1857734) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938128)

Systems that match your speed to the car in front of you, including breaking to a full stop, are commercially available for over 10 years. I've personally driven in such a car, and the driving experience is (IMHO) fantastic.

However, those systems don't take over steering, so you still have to operate the wheel and thus keep attention on the road. They return full control to the driver in case the surroundings get "dangerous", i.e. outside of the parameters, e.g. if you get cut by somebody. In that case, you get a pretty loud warning, and the break force booster gets prepared for an emergency break.

Re:Less driver attention == lower safety? (2)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938156)

I know the system's still in early trials, but I can't see anything about safety testing in their own site (or any article about them). They've tested in snow, so I assume they've seen a bit of ice, but there's nothing about them deliberately trying to find the system's fail points.

And that seems a little too common in these automated systems. Remember Volvo's infamous lolfail video? An anti-collision system that happily drove into a truck. Or Top Gear's experience with a production auto-park system, which happily backed into a fence. These systems work brilliantly until you throw something at them that wasn't in their test.

How will they cope with faulty data? What happens when I buy one that's 20 years old? I have enough trouble with faulty sensors on my decidedly non-automated car.

I can imagine people reporting their cars suddenly swerving off the road for no apparent reason. Manufacturer stonewalls, claims driver error, publishes data from in-car data recorder showing that a manual "release" was triggered. Except it is recorded from the same sensor that triggers the release, so can't differentiate between a driver action and a faulty sensor. Then someone dies. And the manufacturer issues a world-wide "fix", a slightly higher surround around the Release button.

Re:Less driver attention == lower safety? (1)

s0litaire (1205168) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938416)

Think it will be more like a Swam (or flying "V" of geese)

The Lead sends out speed & direction signals to cars behind it.

The cars behind send the lead vehicle info on their location in the swam.

As most cars have been filled with all sorts of sensors it would not be hard to send that as telemetry to a lead vehicle to give it an exact picture of the state of each vehicle.

If one reports a problem (blow out, fuel, engine problems accident) the lead then can either tell other cars to slow down, change lane or whatever is required to minimise Human loss of lives.

It might be possible to use "Hard shoulders" / outside lanes for these vehicles rather than the normal lanes.

There's no such thing as 100% (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937746)

Professional human drivers do make errors too. Not to mention what really makes a driver "professional", a fresh taxi driver has less experience than many "amateurs". Computers may not be distracted or sleepy or drunk but sensors certainly can by rain and snow and low sun. They too can miss that there's an oil spill on the road and go flying off it, or an elk about to cross the road. And while the theory says you're never supposed to go faster than that you can stop on what road is visible to you, that rule is often violated in practice. But then, most of us do hand over that trust when we're passengers ourselves. They just need to make it safer to trust the auto than trust the driver, not perfection...

Re:There's no such thing as 100% (1)

vidnet (580068) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937930)

They just need to make it safer to trust the auto than trust the driver, not perfection...

Ideally, yes. But try telling someone that the computer they're entrusting their lives to is almost 100% perfect, killing only 7 people per 1B miles driven*.

Also, people can only relate to human mistakes. If you hit an elk because it jumped into the road and you didn't react fast enough, people understand - even if a computer would have handled it easily.
If the elk was quite obviously standing in the road under a tree, but a computer vision based system interpretted it as a shadow and ran into it, the lawsuits would pile up. Even if the computer is a much better driver on average.

* Down from 11 with humans

Fun to overtake... (1)

snugge (229110) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937754)

How the hell are you supposed to overtake one of these things...?

Especially on sweden's moronic 2+1 divided highways?

Re:Fun to overtake... (1)

MaXMC (138127) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937830)

Why would you want to overtake one of these things?

They will follow the speed limit so you won't have any reason what so ever to overtake them, besides not following the speedlimit yourself.

What's moronic about 2+1 roads?

Re:Fun to overtake... (1)

trigpoint (1230530) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938284)

They will follow the speed limit so you won't have any reason what so ever to overtake them, besides not following the speedlimit yourself.

If the lead vehicle is a truck, its speed limit is lower usually lower than that of a car. In the EU trucks have speed limiter fitted that are set to 100kmh, and in the UK many are (legally) restricted to 40mph. Cars can travel at 60mph on these roads.

Re:Fun to overtake... (1)

MaXMC (138127) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938418)

In Sweden the maximum speed limit on a road is 110km/h

Cars/Trucks that weigh over 3.5 Metric tons are limited to 90Km/h.

If you are going 200km the gain from driving 100km/h versus 90km/h is 13 minutes. That's nothing considering you are driving for nearly two hours.

100% reliable? (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937768)

There's no such thing in technology as "100% reliable". It needs to be as safe as the current system (because it offers potential benefits in time and fuel efficiency) -- probably rather safer to overcome resistance to handing over responsibility for safety (most people will accept more risk if they perceive that they control the risk ourself than they will accept if they perceive somebody else to be controlling the risk). But not "100%" reliable.

Not scaremonger all of us (1)

SpaghettiPattern (609814) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937822)

I have no intention to scaremonger all of us. But I just thought of the way to go with a loud BANG when one of the low moods hits me, again. I will enlist to become a road train conductor. I fancy I should be vividly remembered.

Re:Not scaremonger all of us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34937900)

Drive off a cliff?
Drive into a concrete barrier?

Re:Not scaremonger all of us (1)

Tom (822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938068)

For about a week, yes.

If you want to take 10-20 others with you, there are easier ways to do that, today. Becoming a road train conductor, which will probably be accompanied by some training and a test or two, would certainly be a very long-winded way. Like joining the NRA and becoming an experienced game hunter just so you can shoot yourself.

Re:Not scaremonger all of us (1)

SpaghettiPattern (609814) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938172)

Becoming a road train conductor, which will probably be accompanied by some training and a test or two, would certainly be a very long-winded way.

Keep in mind we're geeks and that we try and solve our luxury problems through knowledge and by employing technologically interesting methods. It is a mere coincidence -a very luck coincidence in this hypothetical example- that we generally get bored shortly before having mastered the skill and that we simply move on and forget about our original purpose.

In any case, you're always better of with knowledge -however useless it may be- than without in two identical situations.
Right now, for instance, I'm studying for the ICC certificate [wikipedia.org]. Not particularly in a country with no sea borders. But the I skills learn through this are mine. And consequently I feel more at ease should I ever need to determine a position or plan a course.

Re:Not scaremonger all of us (1)

PseudonymousBraveguy (1857734) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938162)

I'd bet that every car will be equipped with safety systems of its own, so if the leading car runs amok, the rest will simply initiate an emergency break.

Here's what's not going to happen in America: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34937886)

this

Re:Here's what's not going to happen in America: (1)

herojig (1625143) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937972)

Exactly. From what I remember about America, is that driving is not just getting from point A to point B. It's about the journey in many cases. Even taking a different route home from work to see the sights was a freedom greatly enjoyed in your own vehicle. And doing that on a two-wheeler was even better. For longer journeys, like cross country, the adventure was taking Route 66 bits instead of the interstate, or diverting to see the World's Biggest Ball of String was something that made long drives fun. Even in the EU, puttering around France and stopping for lunch in a farmtown cafe (with yummy table wine), for example, sounds so much more interesting then participating in an Autobahn cartrain. When it gets down to it, this sounds like another personal freedom take-away on the way to becoming just a cog on a wheel instead of being human.

Re:Here's what's not going to happen in America: (1)

Tom (822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938184)

I don't remember it saying anywhere that road trains would become mandatory.

I've driven the whole of Germany several times. Some of the times, arriving is my goal and I take the Autobahn, and if there were road trains available, I would have gladly taken them. Especially driving at night (which I prefer for the long trips because the roads are less crowded) is extremely boring.

Other times, you are right that the trip is more important than arriving at the destination. I've driven through Germany from south to north with maybe 20 km of Autobahn in total (to cross a major river). It was a three-day trip, it was very interesting, and I enjoyed the driving and the sights.

In the one case, the existence of road trains would have been a boon. In the other case, it wouldn't have made a difference. So in sum total, it would have been a boon.

Never! (1)

miffo.swe (547642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937950)

As long as any part of it is made with anything Microsoft Windows that thing wont get near any car i own.

Doomed (0)

Alioth (221270) | more than 3 years ago | (#34937980)

'This kind of system would also require a complete change in motoring culture for drivers to hand over control.'

And sadly this is why it is doomed to failure. The problems aren't technical, the problems are cultural. We already know that many people's personality changes as soon as they get behind the wheel (normally polite people become aggressive and rude) and that motoring culture already doesn't accept the simple low-hanging fruit of better economy: no one really needs a 235bhp V6 car when the speed limit is only 70 mph.

So I don't see it ever happening.

Re:Doomed (1)

black_lbi (1107229) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938208)

As others have already pointed out there are a lot of technical problems which need to be sorted out before something like this could be viable.
My guess is it will never happen.
Regarding your engine power vs speed limit comment: it's not just about maximum speed, acceleration matters also.

Re:Doomed (1)

PseudonymousBraveguy (1857734) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938244)

The adaption will be slow, but I'd say it's not impossible. Adaptive cruise control is commercially available, and that teaches drivers to simply follow the speed of other cars. The next step would prpbably to evolve systems that warn on leaving your lane to systems that actively keep your lane. From there, you are almost at "road trains". If will take a couple of years, but I wouldn't consider it to be impossible at all.

Fuel economy is an important topic in countries with high gas prices. Fuel prices in Germany are 1,57 EUR/l or about 8 US$/gallon. Accordingly, the average car in europe has a much better fuel economy then the avarage US car.

Additionally, one of the major advantages of "road trains" is not only economy, but comfort. Driving a few hours on the highway is tiering, if you can just add your car to any passing road train and let your car drive, you wil reach your destination much more relaxed.

Re:Doomed (1, Informative)

Loosifur (954968) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938256)

Thank God it's doomed to failure! Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of "plugging in" to a freeway and doing a steady 65 mph (faster than you'd be going in rush-hour traffic, and without the headache), but I also want the option to drive myself, however I want to. I like the feeling of driving a car. I like shifting. I like the visceral feeling of becoming in tune with a machine, and knowing all of its funny little quirks. I like knowing exactly how far I can push a car, and then getting right up to the edge. Granted, I'm not talking about doing 105 mph past an ambulance and a schoolbus on a crowded street, but when conditions are safe, I like driving fast and taking corners hard. I also like just seeing how an '84 Volvo stationwagon runs when I've tuned it up and restored it to new(ish) condition.

You know, people don't need beer or ice cream, and indeed, both can contribute to numerous social ills. Surely everyone who spends money on beer and/or ice cream would save that money by not buying either one. However, a lot of people happen to like beer and/or ice cream. There are a lot of things you don't need, but that you buy, eat, drink, or do anyway. That's sort of what makes life enjoyable.

Call me a luddite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34937990)

The whole convoy reminds me of a grand parade, troops marching and Stalin watching over them. No thanks, I can drive on my own. I don't want to be forced to fall in rank.

would love to (0)

Tom (822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938030)

I'd love to have this. I don't drive very much, but a few times I year I need to take fairly long trips. That is lost time to me. If I could kick back and read a book, or work on a notebook, that would be many hours of personal time gained.

Re:would love to (1)

st0rmshad0w (412661) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938444)

So who says this system will be going where you are on your time-table?

Some of us like to be self reliant enough to get where we want to go in our own time by our own means and actually ENJOY the journey.

professional lead drivers to take the strain=safe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34938040)

Why does anyone think professional drivers are safer than your average commuter driver? If anything, truck drivers spend more time on their mobiles or asleep at the wheel, and taxi drivers are all think they're perfect and can drive twice as fast as everyone else.

DC Metro, anyone? (2)

Loosifur (954968) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938074)

Good luck selling this to anyone from the Washington, DC area. The Metro is, rightly or wrongly, notorious in the DC area for being dangerous. The WMATA is notorious for everything from ignoring safety recommendations, running old cars, and skipping maintenance, to promoting a culture of hostility within its workforce. Metro employees are underpaid, overworked, and, to put it delicately, benefit from a somewhat lenient hiring process. Now, who would you propose will be driving the lead car around the Capital Beltway? Unless you pick this one segment of public transportation to be contracted out to a private company, it's gonna be the WMATA in the DC area. If I wanted some surly bastard with no professional training who hates his job and hasn't slept in a day to drive, I'd do it myself, thanks.

Hmm... (1)

lennier1 (264730) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938102)

Somebody should've told them that the term "road train" is already widely used for a related phenomenon.

I want to be the driver (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34938124)

And then I can take them here: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Magic_Roundabout_(Swindon)

Mwuhahahahaa

And then (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938304)

why are all the major innovations breaking important barriers coming from sweden, a socialist heritage country with a whopass personal income tax and beyond-american-dream social security ?

Best of both worlds :*P (1)

TerribleNews (1195393) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938336)

You get all the convenience of having to conform to the train schedule, with all the fuel consumption of a car (okay, according to TFS, 80% of the fuel consumption of your car plus 1/n*the fuel consumption of the lead vehicle, where n is number of vehicles in the road train).

Why (1)

RandySC (9804) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938368)

would I want to voluntarily be stuck behind a truck going 90 km/hr? Just thinking about it has me searching for third gear while sitting at my desk:)

Serial pile-up? (1)

Geminii (954348) | more than 3 years ago | (#34938374)

Currently, if the lead truck in a convoy does something stupid, unexpected, or dangerous, the following trucks with their human drivers are able to instantly make the decision to stop following the first truck's lead and instead perform a much safer action, such as slowing down, changing lane, taking a different route, pulling over etc, regardless of location, road condition, weather, catastrophic damage to the route (landslide, bridge out etc). They are also able to reform the convoy and deliver their own cargoes even if the lead truck's driver has been turned into a road pancake. In the event that the lead truck is rendered immobile but the driver is still alive, the other drivers can notify emergency services, perform first aid, direct traffic away from the dangerous area, etc.

What happens to an automatic convoy when the lead truck clips something on the side of the road, flips over, and slides 200 feet into a ditch? Are the others obligated to follow suit like giant mechanical lemmings?

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