Volvo has successfully completed the first-ever test drive of a road train among other road users.
Road trains, or platoons, are made up of a number of vehicles that automatically monitor the distance, speed and direction of the car immediately in front and mimic its actions.
Volvo’s test, carried out on 200km of motorway outside of Barcelona, featured a Volvo XC60, a Volvo V60, a Volvo S60 and a single truck automatically driving in convoy behind a lead vehicle.
Linda Wahlström, project manager for the SARTRE project at Volvo Car Corporation, said: “Driving among other road-users is a great milestone in our project. It was truly thrilling. The vehicles drove at 85 kilometres an hour. The gap between each vehicle was just six metres. “During our trials on the test circuit we tried out gaps from five to fifteen metres.”
The road train built on Volvo’s existing safety systems, including cameras, radar and laser sensors – the vehicles monitor the lead vehicle and also other vehicles in their immediate vicinity. By adding in wireless communication, the vehicles in the platoon mimic the lead vehicle using autonomous control – accelerating, braking and turning in exactly the same way as the leader.
According to Volvo, the project aims to deliver improved comfort for drivers, who can spend their time doing other things while driving, such as work on laptops, reading a book or having lunch. Sartre also estimates that road trains can improve traffic safety, by reducing rear-end emissions; cut back on emissions; and ease congestion and tailbacks by using smooth speed control.
The three-year SARTRE project has been under way since 2009. And, according to Wahlstrom: “We’ve learnt a whole lot during this period. People think that autonomous driving is science fiction, but the fact is that the technology is already here. From the purely conceptual viewpoint, it works fine and road train will be around in one form or another in the future.”
She added: “We’ve focused really hard on changing as little as possible in existing systems. Everything should function without any infrastructure changes to the roads or expensive additional components in the cars. Apart from the software developed as part of the project, it is really only the wireless network installed between the cars that set them apart from other cars available in showrooms today.”
The SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project is a joint venture between Ricardo UK Ltd, Applus+ Idiada, Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen (IKA), SP Technical Research Institute, Volvo Technology and Volvo Car Corporation.