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In the Sartre roadtrain test, gaps between vehicles driving 85 km/h were only 6 meters (Photo: Volvo Car)

A consortium that includes Volvo Car and Volvo Trucks successfully conducted a public road test of platooning, an experimental technology that lets vehicles automatically follow a lead vehicle with the help of in-car cameras and sensors.

The technology can be a major step in the direction of autonomous driving.

The road  test, which involved three Volvo car models and a truck automatically driving in convoy behind a lead vehicle, was carried out in Spain by SARTRE.

SARTRE stands for Safe Road Trains for the Environment, a venture funded in part by the  European Commission. Next to Ricardo, companies and organizations participating are Volvo Cars, Volvo Technology, Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia of Spain, Institut für Kraftfahrwesen Aachen (IKA) of Germany, and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.

The project’s immediate aim is to allow road trains to operate on public roads; to develop technology that makes platooning feasible; to show the benefits in improving safety, lowering emissions and reducing traffic congestion; and to build a prototype that will help convince future users and authorities the system is viable.

 "We covered 200 kilometres in one day and the test turned out well. We're really delighted," said Linda Wahlstroem, project manager for the SARTRE project at Volvo Car .
In a road train, the following vehicles monitor the lead vehicle and also keep track of of traffic in their immediate vicinity. The vehicles use an autonomous control technology made by Ricardo that lets them accelerate, brake and turn in exactly the same way as the lead vehicle.
The platooning test is one example of how technology could deal with driver distraction. It also demonstrates the potential to deal with road congestion by allowing cars to keep less distance. And SARTRE estimates potential fuel savings of 20 pc in highway driving.
During the test in Spain, the convoy traveled at speeds of 85 km/hour and gaps between vehicles were 6 meters, which is considerably less than what would be considered safe in normal driving.
Wahlstroem said the platooning technology can be implemented without any infrastructure changes to roads and without adding expensive new components to cars.
Said the Volvo Car executive: "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."