It was last year when we first wrote about SARTRE, the technology and idea that cars can travel autonomously in a train-like convey. SARTRE, also known as Safe Road Trains for the Environment, aims to develop strategies and technologies that will allow vehicles to operate on normal public highways with significant environmental, safety and comfort benefits. Basically, the idea was to have a lead driver tow a train of cars behind it. Tests have been going on at Volvo’s test track in Sweden last year. The researchers behind the project believes that the technology will reduce fuel cost while increasing the safety of motorists, especially when road are congested.

After more than a year of testing, the “autonomous road train” project finally completed its first public road test. The project utilizes high-tech cameras, radar and laser sensors to enable a wirelessly linked train of cars to travel autonomously behind a lead vehicle operated by a professional driver. “People think that autonomous driving is science fiction, but the fact is that the technology is already here,” says Linda Wahlström, project manager for the SARTRE project.

Volvo said that the next phase of the project will focus on analysis of fuel consumption. “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 sets them apart from other cars available in showrooms today.” Linda said. SARTRE and its technology still has a long way to go. One concern being raised by observers is the technology’s ability to avoid collisions and accidents.

SARTRE is a joint venture between Ricardo UK Ltd, Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia of Spain, Institut for Kraftfahrwesen Aachen (IKA) of Germany, SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, Volvo Car Corporation and Volvo Technology of Sweden.

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