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First 'road train' test a success

David Ludlow
19 Jan 2011
First 'road train' test a success
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Put your feet up and let the computer do the driving

Academics have completed the first 'road train' test, getting a car controlled by a computer to safely follow a truck.

The experts, working on the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SATRE) project, aim to create technology that will allow cars to automatically drive in convoys.

It's hoped that the technology can help reduce fuel consumption, give drivers a rest while still moving and improve road safety. With the technology development, no alteration to motorways would be necessary.

Testing at Volvo's test track in Gothenburg, Sweden, was a complete success, with the car mirroring the trucks movements with no human intervention.

"We are very pleased to see that the various systems work so well together already the first time,” said Erik Coelingh, engineering specialist at Volvo. “After all, the systems come from seven SARTRE-member companies in four countries. The winter weather provided some extra testing of cameras and communication equipment."

Long term, the aim for SATRE project is to create vehicle platooning on ordinary roads. Using the system, a professional driver, such as a trucker, takes the lead. Other cars slip into the convoy and have their computer take over control of the car. A computer constantly measure the distance, speed and direction of the vehicle in front, adjusting as necessary.

"This is a major milestone for this important European research programme,” says Tom Robinson, SARTRE project coordinator, of Ricardo UK Ltd. "Platooning offers the prospect of improved road safety, better road space utilization, improved driver comfort on long journeys and reduced fuel consumption and hence CO2 emissions. With the combined skills of its participating companies, SARTRE is making tangible progress towards the realization of safe and effective road train technology."

The latest test is certainly a big improvement over this previous attempt by Volvo at automating the breaking system.

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