The future of fully automated driving just got a whole lot closer as Volvo successfully led a road train — consisting of a Volvo XC60, a Volvo V60, and a Volvo S60, and one truck — for 124 miles through Spain. The event was part of Volvo’s SARTRE road train project (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), in which cars were outfitted with cameras, radars, and laser sensors to monitor the lead vehicle and other vehicles in their immediate vicinity. The Volvos also used a Ricardo autonomous control to mimic the lead vehicle. The wireless communication system allowed the vehicles to accelerate, brake, and make turns the same way as the leader. Throughout the test the vehicles were about 20 feet apart.

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SARTRE is a joint venture between Ricardo UK Ltd, Applus+ Idiada, Tecnalia Research & Innovation, the Institute of Automotive Engineering, SP Technical Research Institute, and Volvo. The most recent test took place in Spain, where the three Volvos drove fully automated for 124 miles at 53 miles an hour behind a truck.

“We’ve learnt a whole lot during this period. 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,” says Linda Wahlström, project manager for the SARTRE project at Volvo Car Corporation.

There are many benefits to a future with fully automated driving. For one, drivers in fully automated vehicles will be allowed more freedom to spend their time doing other things while driving. They can work on their laptops, read a book, or sit back and enjoy a relaxed lunch. The project also aims to improve traffic safety, reduce environmental impact and – thanks to smooth speed control – cut the risk of traffic tailbacks. If successful the project could reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent and the number of accidents due to driver fatigue.

Wahlström added, “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.”

The SARTRE project has been under way since 2009, and in the last three years the vehicles have covered over 6,000 miles. After the test on the public roads in Spain, the project is now entering a new phase with a focus on fuel consumption.

+ Volvo