A trio of autonomous Volvo vehicles successfully followed a Volvo heavy duty truck through Barcelona traffic last week. The truck was piloted by a professional driver while an S60 sedan, a V60 wagon, and an XC60 crossover safely followed its every move thanks to developing technology.
The autonomous road train is the result of the SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project, a joint venture among Ricardo UK Ltd, Applus+ Idiada, Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen (IKA), SP Technical Research Institute, Volvo Technology, and Volvo Car Corporation and is funded in part by the European Commission.
“This is a very significant milestone in the development of safe road train technology,” said Tom Robinson, of Ricardo and SARTRE project director, in a release. “For the very first time we have been able to demonstrate a convoy of autonomously driven vehicles following a lead vehicle with its professional driver, in a mixed traffic environment on a European motorway.”
Robinson also suggested that the technology can provide a smoother driving experience, reduce emissions, and optimize “road space utilization.” The cars used existing technology such as cameras as well as radar and laser sensors to monitor the lead vehicle as well as surrounding traffic. Ricardo autonomous control and wireless communication capability were added to the vehicles so they could follow the lead truck’s movements. The road train traveled at speeds up to 53 mph (85 kmh) at a distance of about 20 feet between vehicles.
“We covered 200 kilometers in one day and the test turned out well. We’re really delighted,” says Linda Wahlström, project manager for the SARTRE project. “People think that autonomous driving is science fiction, but the fact is that the technology is already here.”
A driver rode in each vehicle. In all, the SARTRE project has covered more than 6200 miles since it began in 2009. The next step for the project is to study fuel consumption with computers controlling vehicle inputs.
While autonomous cars and V2V communication are not new (Google has developed a fully autonomous Toyota Prius), Volvo says this is the first successful attempt of both technologies on a public roadway through traffic. Nevada has already passed laws regulating autonomous vehicles (such as having a licensed driver behind the wheel who can take over control in an emergency) while California has passed laws to define what an autonomous car is.
Would you feel comfortable riding in a vehicle that's part of an autonomous road train? Give us your thoughts below.