I recently stumbled upon an innovative website called Undriving.org which promotes and educates the public about the benefits of not driving. But that’s not always possible. This got me thinking of a world where you didn’t actually have to drive. Google’s much hyped autonomous car is one approach, of course. But it’s not the first solution to hands-free driving.
Vehicle Platooning, according to the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project, is a concept in which a lead vehicle, led by professional driver, drives a convoy of other vehicles or platoons. Each individual vehicle connects wirelessly to the moving platoon, thus forming a road train. All of this is made possible by the IEEE 802.11p wireless standard. Once the vehicle is in the platoon, the individual drivers (now passengers) relinquish their control over their vehicles and can enjoy a break, catch on some reading or even take a nap.
Road trains have been in developmental stages since the 1990’s both in the US and in Europe. If successful, these systems improve travel safety, fuel efficiency and mileage, while addressing greater challenges and concerns such as air pollution, and carbon emission, not to mention the stress of driving. It also significantly increases highway throughput (vehicles per lane per hour) which reduces road congestion.
Unfortunately scientists feel the technology is not quite up to speed, and apart from the technical challenges, there are regulatory concerns, and behavioral challenges. Would you trust a wi-fi enabled computer to drive your car over the Broklyn Bridge? I’m on the fence here. Road trains have been successfully tested once before with two vehicles and will be tested again early next year with four platoons. (Watch this video for a demo)
But in general, we’re excited by this. Companies like Weeels, Avego and Zimride are proving that there are benefits to people working together to share rides. Why shouldn’t cars work together to share roads?