The race to roll out autonomous, or driverless cars (Self-Driving Cars), took a step up this week when three Volvo saloons cruised the highways of Spain, as their drivers sat back and relaxed.
Following Google’s experiment with an autonomous car on the streets of Las Vegas, Volvo pulled off the more impressive feat of platooning the three cars behind a lorry for 200 kilometres on a busy Spanish motorway. The idea of self-driving cars dates back to the 1980s under an EU research program on resolving future congestion issues but it seems its time has now come.
The term “platooning” means, in effect, queuing cars behind each other using a lead car as a pace setter. The technique is also known as road-training.
The latest version of the project, involving several research partners alongside Volvo, is codenamed SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment).
The first public road test for the Sartre project took place outside Barcelona, Spain at the end of last week, where the cars traveled at 85 kilometres per hour (about 52 miles per hour), with varying distances between them. The lead car uses wireless technology to control other cars in the “platoon”. Google meanwhile got its first driverless car licenseearlier this month.
Greencarcongress, the website and advocacy group for sustainable mobility, points out that platooning appears to create fuel efficiencies of around 20% on highways. It also allows the driver to divert attention to other activities, like for example email and browsing.
Innovation in the auto-sector is heating up but it is also worth remembering that the EU’s pans for platooning go back over twenty five years. That’s a lot of lead time. Meanwhile Google is setting the pace for urban autonomous cars in the USA. The race to create a different kind of auto industry is on.