Cars that can take to the motorways without driver input took a step closer to reality after Volvo’s announcement that its car-train project has successfully been demonstrated.
In the Volvo car train, a test fleet of cars remotely followed a leading truck without a driver onboard. The cars use cameras and radars to detect the movement of the car in front and lock on to it, mirroring its speed and manoeuvres.
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In the tests, the car ‘platoon’ followed the truck single file on a long stretch of wet road at a constant speed of up to 56mph, maintaining a gap to each other and the truck of no more than six meters.
The test is part of a project called Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE). Seven European partners are running the ‘road train’ project, with the eventual aim being a transition to production vehicles for use on public roads.
The project is also investigating the possibility of changes to Europe’s road network in order to accommodate cars which could form a ‘platoon’.
The technical project manager for Volvo, Erik Coelingh, said: “The aim is for the road train to be completed toward the end of 2012. By then we will have four vehicles following one lead vehicle driving at 90km/h (56mph)".
Supporters of the SARTRE project say that it promotes safer transport because vehicle platoons are led by a professional driver, plus the environmental impact from the cars is reduced since they are in close proximity all the time – lowering drag and improving their efficiency by about 20 per cent – and travelling at a constant speed, which boosts fuel economy.
The project could also potentially reduce congestion and travel times over a given route. Researchers behind the SARTRE project acknowledge that further discussions with politicians, traffic safety researchers and legislators are required.
In order for the road trains to become accessible to motorists, the project will have to negotiate various obstacles including legal regulations and persuading drivers that automated vehicles will be sufficiently safe on public roads.