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Volvo Introduces Self-Driving Road-Train on Public Roads

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SARTRE road train's premiere on public roads

SARTRE road train's premiere on public roads.

Volvo recently debuted three cars and one truck driving by themselves on a public road behind a lead vehicle driven by a professional driver, in a “road train” in Spain. The self-driving cars in the SARTRE project (“SAfe Road TRains for the Environment”) included a Volvo XC60, a Volvo V60, and a Volvo S60, according to a Volvo press release.

Volvo explains:

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.

“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[s] them apart from other cars available in showrooms today,” said Linda Wahlstrom, project manager for the SARTRE at Volvo Car Corporation.

As Doug Newcomb writes for Wired’s blog AUTOPIA, SARTRE “seeks to leverage advanced safety features already on vehicles to create road trains rather than add expensive technology that takes total control of a car, a la Google.”

Volvo writes that one goal for the project is to provide increased comfort for drivers, so they can sit back and do other things while in their vehicles, such as work on their laptops, read a book, or enjoy a relaxed lunch. Other goals for SARTRE include improving traffic safety, reducing environmental impact, and cutting the risk of traffic “tailbacks” (a British term for a line of vehicles caused by a traffic slowdown or stoppage), thanks to smooth speed control.

NewsCore notes on Fox News that in a video, Volvo’s Wahlstrom sits behind the steering wheel in one of the SARTRE vehicles as the system gives her instructions to lift her feet from the pedals and then remove her hands from the wheel.

“Driving among other road-users is a great milestone in our project. It was truly thrilling,” Wahlstrom said. “It is quite funny to see the passing vehicles. They are quite surprised seeing me not driving the car but reading a magazine.”

The self-driving cars drove for 124 miles along a roadway outside Spain’s northeastern city of Barcelona. The next step in the SARTRE project will focus on analysis of fuel consumption, Newcomb writes.

SARTRE, which has been in development since 2009, is a joint venture between Ricardo UK Ltd, Applus+ Idiada, Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen (IKA), SP Technical Research Institute, and Volvo Technology and Volvo Car Corporation.

You can see a video of SARTRE in action here:

Image by Volvo Car Corporation, used under Fair Use: Reporting.


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