The idea of having many cars following each other on the highway in a “road train” that’s linked through telematics, has been going around for a while. The Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project took another step towards making this possible last week.
For the first time ever a road train comprising a Volvo XC60, a Volvo V60 and a Volvo S60 plus one truck automatically driving in convoy behind a lead vehicle has operated on a public highway among other road users. The test, held in Spain, was considered highly successful.
The SARTRE 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. Last week’s test was a major step forward and happenned on a highway outside Barcelona. It is, according to SARTRE, the first-ever test drive of a road train among other road users.
“We covered 200 kilometers [124 miles] in one day and the test turned out well. We’re really delighted,” says Linda Wahlström, project manager for the SARTRE project at Volvo Car Corporation.
A road train consists of a lead vehicle driven by a professional driver followed by a number of vehicles. Building on Volvo Car Corporation’s and Volvo Technology’s already existing safety systems – including features such as 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 Ricardo autonomous control – accelerating, braking and turning in exactly the same way as the leader.
The project aims to deliver improved comfort for drivers, and aims to improve traffic safety, reduce environmental impact and – thanks to smooth speed control – cut the risk of traffic tailbacks.
The three-year SARTRE project has been under way since 2009. All told, the vehicles in the project have covered about 10,000 kilometers (6,214 miles). After the test on the public roads in Spain, the project is now entering a new phase with the focus on analysis of fuel consumption.
“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,” says Linda Wahlström.
She continues: “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.”