The next step on Volvo’s virtuous quest to reduce automotive accidents and fatalities is the development of so-called road trains. According to Autocar, Volvo senior safety engineer Thomas Broberg says that road trains will be on European roads “by the end of the decade.”
In a road train, multiple cars are “connected” by wireless technology to drive in packs on highways. One lead vehicle (with a “professional” human driver) sets the train’s speed, and other vehicles can link to the lead vehicle. On-board systems in the following vehicles would autonomously steer, accelerate, and apply the brakes as necessary. In theory, this would reduce the number of accidents caused by driver error on highways, and could allow drivers to nap or watch movies while behind the wheel.
“Road trains allow a driver to use their time better, drive safer, reduce congestion and improve the environment,” Broberg told Autocar. “You’re always following another car, so why not let the driving be done by someone else?”
Although he admitted there are legal and safety hurdles to surmount, Broberg said Volvo plans to test road trains on public roads in Sweden later this year. The company tested a road train composed of two vehicles in Sweden in January, and hopes that this technology will pave the way for fully autonomous cars.
Development of road trains is being funded by a European Commission program called Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE.) The SARTRE project is coordinated by U.K. engineering group Ricardo, with collaboration from several European universities and technical consultancies, as well as Volvo Cars and Volvo Trucks Corporation.
According to SARTRE, the vehicles in a road train will travel much more closely than human drivers safely can, potentially alleviating congestion. Close following distances and consistent driving mannersare also said to reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent. SARTRE claims 80 percent of car accidents are caused by driver error, so road trains are expected to drastically improve highway safety.The group says road train “technology development is well underway and can most likely go into production in a few years time.”
Volvo Trucks Corporation-- which is a separate company from Volvo Cars -- has previously outlined a similar vision for autonomous semi trucks, which would drive themselves in road trains at 56 mph. Not only could truck drivers rest on long journeys, but the Volvo Concept Truck 2020s are designed to “draft” each other, thus reducing fuel consumption.
It’s no secret that Volvo Cars has long made its name on safety innovations. Now the company’s goal is for zero Volvo vehicles to be involved in car accidents in the year 2020. According to chief designer Anders Gunnarson, advanced accident-avoidance technologies will mean cars never crash, so they will be designed without extensive crumple zones and passive safety equipment.
“This means we designers can use these areas to create a stimulating, more attractive environment for driver and passengers,” Gunnarson said in a statement.
Seeing as several other automakers have tried to implement something similar over the past few decades, we’ll believe it when we see it.
Source: Volvo, Autocar