Volvo's Road Train Project Debuts on Public Roads

Tuesday, 29 May 2012
The Volvo Car Corporation's vehicle platoon project has successfully completed its first test on a public motorway among other road users.

Sitting in a vehicle just six metres behind another while travelling at 85km/h and relying totally on the technology may be daunting, but the successful test was a significant milestone in Volvo's SARTRE – Safe Road Trains for the Environment – project.

SARTRE is a joint venture between Ricardo UK Ltd, Applus+ Idiada, Robotiker, Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen (IKA), SP Technical Research Institute, Volvo Technology and 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 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.

So, on a motorway outside Barcelona in Spain a road train travelling at 85km/h and consisting of a Volvo XC60, a Volvo V60, a Volvo S60, plus one truck, automatically drove in convoy behind a lead vehicle.

"People think that autonomous driving is science fiction, but the fact is that the technology is already here," says Linda Wahlström, project manager for the SARTRE project at Volvo Car Corporation.

"We covered 200 kilometres in one day and tried out gaps [between vehicles] from five to 15 metres. From the purely conceptual viewpoint it works fine, and the road train will be around in one form or another in the future."

The project aims to deliver improved comfort for drivers who can now spend their time doing other things while driving, like work on their laptops, read a book or sit back and enjoy a relaxed lunch.

Naturally the project also aims to improve traffic safety, reduce environmental impact and – thanks to smooth speed control – cut the risk of traffic tailbacks.

"We've focused really hard on changing as little as possible in existing systems," says Linda 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 sets them apart from other cars available in showrooms today."

The three-year SARTRE project has been under way since 2009. All told, the vehicles in the project have covered about 10,000 kilometres.

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.

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