France believes it can transport people on driverless trains by 2023

Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV), France
Who says cars are the only form of transportation that could benefit from being driverless?

Certainly not engineers in France, who have high hopes for the future of their trains. According to a new report from FranceInfo, SCNF, the French government-owned railway company responsible for managing the country’s rail services, has its sights set on what it calls​ a “train drone” project. The goal is for a prototype of this technology to be on the tracks by 2019 (though it’ll transport goods, not humans, at first).

You won’t necessarily be able to tell that this train doesn’t have a conductor — at least, not from afar. Rather, the French publication notes, it’ll simply be outfitted with external sensors meant to keep tabs on obstacles in its way. Should the sensors detect potential danger in its way, it’ll trigger automatic braking. Ultimately, the company hopes this driverless train could make for more efficient journeys by eliminating the “tedious maneuvers of setting up in stations before departure” — although it likely won’t make the list of the world’s fastest trains.

The first humans should be able to ride this drone train by 2023, making their way between Paris and the southeast of France. But don’t worry — there will be humans onboard who aren’t passengers. A driver will still be on hand, though his or her role will largely be relegated to closing doors and intervening should an emergency arise.

While the idea of automated mass transportation may seem a bit daunting to some, Matthieu Chabanel, the adjoint director of SNCF, pointed out that a driverless train wouldn’t be very different from the autopilot feature on airplanes. “In aircraft, you always have a driver, fortunately, but you have an automatic steering system,” he noted. The same would apply to French trains. Similar efforts are under way to create self-driving trucks as well.

If all goes well, SCNF believes that it could level up both the regularity and speed of trains, especially in Paris, the hub of French transportation. So look out, world. France is setting the bar high when it comes to autonomous technology.

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