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Volvo SARTRE self-driving road train demoed

In the future, lorries and cars will drive by themselves as part of high-speed, wirelessly-connected road trains. So say the folks at Volvo, who recently demonstrated their Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) system to a collection of tech experts and European Commission representatives.

Volvo's SARTRE system lets you kick back and relax while your car automatically follows those in front.
Volvo’s SARTRE system lets you kick back and relax while your car automatically follows those in front.

Those in attendance were treated to a demonstration that involved two Volvo lorries and three cars. The lead lorry is controlled by a professional driver, while the vehicles that follow lock onto the lead vehicle and drive themselves autonomously. Their steering systems, brakes and accelerators mimic the inputs of the systems in the leading car, leaving their occupants free to relax, read a book or watch television while the platoon gets on with the driving.

“All the vehicles in the road train have a roof-mounted antenna so they can receive information from the lead vehicle’s computer system,” said Andreas Ekfjorden, project manager for Volvo Trucks’ portion of the SARTRE project. “For instance, if the lead truck starts braking, all the other vehicles in the train brake at exactly the same time.”

“The gaps between the vehicles are much smaller than in normal traffic, but it is as safe, or even safer to be part of the road train, since it is lightning-quick computers and not human beings who respond to even the slightest change in any of the cars in the train,” he continued.

Volvo believe road trains provide several advantages to ordinary driving. They are theoretically safer, as the lead vehicle will always be driven by a professional driver and the trailing vehicles are controlled by computers that are less likely than humans to make mistakes. There should also be environmental benefits, as cars driving closer to each other minimises air drag and fuel consumption.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen SARTRE in action. The technology was first shown off earlier in the year. However this latest demo is significant, as it was attended by the very people that have a say in whether SARTRE is adopted for mainstream use. Here’s hoping the system gets the green light for general use at some point in the near future.

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