Volvo's autonomous road train hits the streets in Spain

By Editors on May 30, 2012 3:18 PM

While Google's autonomous driving exploits have been making high-tech headlines here in the U.S., Volvo has continued work on its own SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project in Europe. This week, the automaker revealed that the first multiple-vehicle run on a public thoroughfare had been successfully accomplished on a public motorway in Spain. In this case, the road train consisted of a specially equipped Volvo "pilot" truck followed by a second large Volvo truck and three Volvo passenger vehicles, an S60 sedan, V60 wagon and an XC60 SUV -- all running safely in a hands-free line. "We covered 200 kilometers (124 miles) in one day and the test turned out well," noted Linda Wahlström, project manager for the SARTRE project at Volvo Car Corporation. "Driving among other road-users is a great milestone in our project. It was truly thrilling. The vehicles drove at 85 kilometers an hour (52 mph), and the gap between each vehicle was just six meters." Earlier, Volvo had performed other evaluations on a closed facility using gap distances that varied from 5 to 15 meters.

"We've focused really hard on changing as little as possible in existing systems," said Wahlström. "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." Established in 2009 with support from the European Commission, the SARTRE project is an international collaborative effort led by Ricardo UK Ltd. In addition to Volvo Car Corporation and Volvo Technology of Sweden, it also involves Idiada and Tecnalia Research & Innovation of Spain, Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen (IKA) of Germany and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden. Thus far, SARTRE has rolled up about 6,200 total evaluation miles and is now entering a new phase with the focus on analysis of fuel consumption.

"We've learned a whole lot during this period," notes Wahlström. "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."