A convoy of self-driven cars has completed the first ever test on a public motorway. The test in Spain covered 200km as part of the SARTRE project investigating the use of semi-autonomous motoring.
The SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project is a EU-backed investigation into removing the need for drivers in cars following a lead vehicle.
Linda Wahlström, project manager at SARTRE said: "Driving among other road-users is a great milestone in our project. It was truly thrilling. During our trials on the test circuit we tried out gaps from five to fifteen metres.”
The vehicles employ a range of technologies already fitted to Volvo models, such as cameras, radars and laser sensors, to monitor the lead vehicle, and other nearby vehicles. New wireless communication systems allow the train to mimic the steering, speed and braking of the lead vehicle.
Partners in the SARTRE project, including Volvo and Ricardo UK, believe road trains can deliver improved comfort for drivers, who can work, read or relax behind the wheel rather than driving. It is predicted that safety and pollution levels can both be improved and the risk of tailbacks can be reduced.
Wahlström said: "We've learnt a lot during this period. People think autonomous driving is science fiction, but the fact is 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.
"We've focused really hard on changing as little as possible in existing systems. 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."