Wireless road train premieres on Spanish motorway

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The first ever road train using wireless communication to automatically drive cars in convoy has successfully operated among other road users on a public motorway just outside Barcelona.

As part of the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project, three Volvos and a truck were autonomously driven 6m apart over 200km at speeds up to 85km/h by mimicking a lead vehicle driven by a professional driver. The project is a joint venture between Ricardo UK, Applus+ Idiada, Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen, SP Technical Research Institute, Volvo Technology and Volvo Car Corporation. "Driving among other road users is a great milestone in our project. It was truly thrilling," said Linda Wahlström, project manager for the SARTRE project at Volvo. Building on Volvo's safety systems, including cameras, radar and laser sensors, the vehicles monitor both a lead vehicle and others in their immediate vicinity. By adding the wireless communication of Ricardo autonomous control, the vehicles in the platoon accelerate, brake and turn in exactly the same way as the leader. "We've focused really hard on changing as little as possible in existing systems," continued Wahlström. "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 sets them apart from other cars available in showrooms today." The project aims to improve traffic safety, reduce environmental impact and cut the risk of traffic tailbacks through speed control. Drivers would also be able to do other things while driving, from working on laptops to eating lunch. SARTRE has been underway since 2009 with the vehicles already covering 10,000km. The project is now entering a new phase with a focus on fuel consumption. "People think that autonomous driving is science fiction, but the fact is that 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," concluded Wahlström.