Grand plans invite scepticism. There is invariably something déjà-vu about large co-operative projects promising to save lives. Take today’s announcement that in ten years we’ll be running nose-to-tail on motorways while drivers relax and read a newspaper. See The Sunday Times of 30 April 1989 in which I quoted no less than Sir Clive Sinclair predicting much the same. There is no doubt that the technology is available to make better use of motorways than we do, but I do not much care for a “professional” driver to lead a platoon of trucks near me, thank you. Sounds like a recipe, when he falls asleep or wants to read his own newspaper, of an accident like a train crash.
Click to enlarge, or read original copy below
Wednesday, April 26, 1989 09:00
An automatic pilot for cars is practical. Prometheus, a pan European research and development programme now in its third year looks like getting into the driving seat by the end of the Century. "Driving along motorways without electronic controls will be seen, in years to come, as savage and dangerous," according to Sir Clive Sinclair in a report on traffic published last week by the Adam Smith Institute. "Fighter aircraft perform in ways which would be inconceivable if a human brain had to regulate them. Cars under electronic control could travel at 100 miles per hour, closer together and in great safety. I envisage motorways where the control of the vehicles is taken over by the road," says the inventive Sir Clive. One of the pioneers of Prometheus (PROgramme for a European Traffic with Highest Efficiency and Unprecedented Safety, not a catchy title), Dr Ferdinand Panik of Daimler Benz agrees. "Present day traffic with individual elements will evolve into an integral system of co operating partners." He regards the electronic revolution in cars as analogous to typewriters. "Twenty years ago, as a purely mechanical product, the typewriter had reached a very advanced state of development. Everyone was satisfied with it. Yet within a short time, computers and communication systems had brought about a change from independent typewriters to interlinked word processors, and conquered the market." Jerome Rivard, former chief of electronics at Ford, now Vice President of Bendix Electronics in the United States believes we are entering the final phase of handing over control of the car to electronics. "Phase 1 was from the mid 60s to the late 70s, when we saw the solid state radio, electronic ignition, and digital clocks. Phase 2 brought integrated circuits and microprocessors which started to link components together. This included electronic engine controls, instruments, and anti lock brakes, now familiar to many drivers. Phase 3 began in the mid 1980s, in which we will see the total integration of vehicle electrical and electronic systems." What this means is that with developments such as anti lock brakes, and its corollary, electronic traction control for preventing loss of grip through wheelspin, coming into use, the stage is set for electronics to take the wheel. "We shall drive on to motorways, but once we are there, control of the vehicle will be taken over by the road," says Sir Clive. Rivard puts it another way, "The skills required in handling an automobile are, in some cases, beyond the capacity of the average driver. The advances in steering, braking, and suspension technology during Phase 3 will allow him to employ the full performance potential of the vehicle even in exceptional situations like avoiding accidents." The immediate safety related task of the new systems will be to create an electronic field round the car with ultrasonic, radar, or infrared beams, to measure the distances and speeds to other vehicles. Approaching a parked lorry at night or in fog, the driver will be alerted to the danger of collision. Before the invention of anti lock brakes (ABS) he would have put the brakes on, or swerved by himself. Now the car can do the job better than the most skilled driver, and on the Sinclair motorway, will apply its own brakes. The same applies to unwise overtaking. On board computers calculate the speed of the lorry ahead, the speed of the car overtaking, decide there is danger of an accident, and over rule the driver's decision to pull out. Research chiefs such as Professor Dr Ing. Ulrich Seiffert of VW see measures of this sort as a solution to the problem of congestion on motorways. "With electronic controls regulating the cars, you could double or treble the capacity of a motorway," he told me during a meeting at this year's Geneva Motor Show. "And automatic traffic will also be more fuel efficient, and so less polluting." At the inception of Prometheus in 1986, Professor Werner Breitschwerdt, Chairman of the Daimler Benz board of management defined its target as cutting road traffic casualties by half before the year 2000. At a meeting in Munich earlier this year by the participating companies which include most of Europe's principal car manufacturers (Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Renault, Peugeot Citroën, Fiat, Volvo, Saab Scania, VW, BMW, Volkswagen Audi, and Daimler Benz), the research and development phase of the programme was officially inaugurated. "It was a meeting to provide the project's board of management with a progress report," according to Daimler Benz, the prime mover and still the principal co ordinator of Prometheus. "The first year, 1987, was taken up with defining the programme, in 1988 the participating companies were discussing how to do it, and research proper starts this year."
VOLVO: Announcement Jan 17 2011
First demonstration of SARTRE vehicle platooning
Platooning may be the new way of travelling on motorways in as little as ten years time - and the EU-financed SARTRE project has carried out the first successful demonstration of its technology at the Volvo Proving Ground close to Gothenburg, Sweden. This is the first time the EU-financed development teams in SARTRE try their systems together outside their simulators.
"We are very pleased to see that the various systems work so well together already the first time," says Erik Coelingh, engineering specialist at Volvo Cars. "After all, the systems come from seven SARTRE-member companies in four countries. The winter weather provided some extra testing of cameras and communication equipment."
"This is a major milestone for this important European research programme," says Tom Robinson, SARTRE project coordinator, of Ricardo UK Ltd. "Platooning offers the prospect of improved road safety, better road space utilisation, improved driver comfort on long journeys and reduced fuel consumption and hence CO2 emissions. With the combined skills of its participating companies, SARTRE is making tangible progress towards the realisation of safe and effective road train technology".
Safer and more convenient
Vehicle platooning, as envisaged by the SARTRE project, is a convoy of vehicles where a professional driver in a lead vehicle drives a line of other vehicles. Each car measures the distance, speed and direction and adjusts to the car in front. All vehicles are totally detached and can leave the procession at any time. But once in the platoon, drivers can relax and do other things while the platoon proceeds towards its long haul destination.
The Sunday Times headline about a new function for radio, by the way, was for a system that switched car radios, without warning, from the national network or frivolous entertainment to local traffic information. Radio Data System (RDS) was a project of the BBC Travel Unit, whose manager Irene Mallis assured me that by the time the scheme was working nationwide, it could have expanded beyond the BBC’s resources. “Travel news should be funded, like the Met Office, as a public service, with the users – the BBC, the AA, RAC or the Freight Transport Association – paying for the information, she said. “We are hoping to press for such a change at a meeting with Peter Bottomley, the transport minister, this summer.”
One Professional Driver - no thanks.