Volvo's viable variant of self-driving cars: add driver
Volvo just revealed a viable variation of autonomous driving technology by putting an actual person out in front. A professional, at that.
Posted September 18, 2012
By SHAUN CONLIN, EVERGEEK MEDIA
According to Volvo, some spiffy new driver technology is all set to reduce car crashing while also improving fuel efficiency. The Swedish car company said the innovation could be implemented with the decade - in Europe, at least.
Volvo said that its three year project has seen the development of the next step in autonomous driving technology, or what might be better described as a different step. Since 2009, Volvo Car Corporation has declared itself the driving force behind the EU funded SARTRE project (Safe Road-Trains for the Environment), bringing vehicle "platooning" technology one step closer to becoming a reality on Europe's roads.
"Platooning" refers to a technology-assisted train of individual cars set to tailgating each other in a synchronized convoy that, thankfully, features computer assisted diligence.
The technique aims to improve safety, efficiency, mileage, and travel time while also relieving traffic congestion and decreasing pollution.
Basically, it allows drivers of appropriately appointed passenger cars to join a "road train." While that may sound like a 19-car pile-up waiting to happen, the train is led by a professional driver, and each car's onboard computer measures the distance, speed and direction and adjusts to the car in front.
Volvo further explains that each vehicle remains self-reliant and can leave the procession at any time. However, once in the platoon, drivers can surrender control, relax, read a book, and do some work or absolutely nothing while the entire platoon proceeds towards its destination.
SARTRE is described as the only project of its kind to focus on the development of technology that can be implemented on conventional motorways without any change to current infrastructure.
Ironically, Sartre is also the name of a rather famous existentialist, Jean-Paul, who's philosophical thrust was that "people are condemned to be free." Just saying.
Volvo Car Corporation predicts this type of technology will create significant improvements to traffic flow and journey times, as well as environmental benefits with energy saving potential of up to 20 percent on journeys.
SARTRE asserts there are other significant safety benefits as well. For example, though fatalities due to car crashes in Europe have decreased over the last decade, a recent report revealed the EU's roads saw over 30,000 fatalities in 2011. More than none, in other words.
Volvo has already made the improbable pledge that by 2020, it will have eliminated deaths or serious injuries in new Volvo cars, but adds the technology developed as part of the SARTRE project is helping to bring the company one step closer to recognizing its enchanting ambition.
The long-term vision of the SARTRE project in general, meanwhile, has been to create a transport system where booking, joining and exiting a road train will be a smoother experience than leaving your car behind and using public transport on long distance trips. With this latest demonstration of the technology on the road, the next stage is pressing for legislation to allow the technology to be employed as a matter of course.
"This technology is a promising example of an innovative approach to making transport greener, safer and smarter," declared Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research and Innovation said. The commission has proposed a budget of nearly 7 billion euro for smart, green and integrated transport research for the "Horizon 2020" programme.