Volvo road test self-driven cars

Posted on June 7th, 2012 by James Luckhurst

Volvo road test self-driven carsIF YOU happened to be standing at the side of a Spanish motorway, and saw a convoy of driverless cars go past, you’d be forgiven for thinking you might be ‘seeing things’. But, according to Volvo, this experiment represented a glimpse into the future – a new age of more relaxed driving, all possible because of sophisticated computer technology.

A convoy of self-driven cars has indeed completed a Spanish motorway journey – the first ever test on a public motorway. The test in Spain covered 200km as part of the EU’s SARTRE project, which is looking into the use of semi-autonomous motoring.

SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) is looking into removing the need for drivers in cars following a lead vehicle. In this test, the line-up included a Volvo XC90, V60 and S60, plus a truck,  all following a lead vehicle driven by a professional driver on a motorways route outside Barcelona.

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 are, not surprisingly, crammed full of kit, including cameras, radars and laser sensors, all of which help to monitor the lead vehicle, and establish the position of other nearby vehicles. New wireless communication systems allow the road train vehicles 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.

Linda Wahlström added: “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.”

Quite how this self-driven concept will take off is anybody’s guess. It’s certainly tempting to think of journeys where the technology does the hard work, and occupants can simply relax or work as they head to their destinations. But even if the technology is already here, we rather doubt that the British motoring public are ready for it.

What do you think? Is this a welcome move in the right direction?

Or should we deplore anything that removes responsibility from the driver? Let us know your thoughts.