The technology behind autonomous cars is rapidly advancing.
Volvo is also at the vanguard of the movement, but takes a different approach. It is building cars that communicate with — not just detect and avoid — one another.
Volvo Trucks participates in SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), an EU-financed project that has been working for three years on road trains, a new take on traffic in which cars automatically follow a leader vehicle, actively driven by a human.
Wireless technology connects the six to eight vehicles in the convoy, so they act like so many cars of a train.
For stretches where there is no car to follow (from one's home to the highway, for example), the driver is in control. But once she joins the convoy, she can relax and take her hands off the wheel.
SARTRE concluded in September, with the final finding: "Platooned traffic can be integrated with other road users on conventional highways."
Today, Volvo Trucks released video and images supporting that finding, of a successful road train test in real world conditions.
Road trains offer numerous upsides. Fuel mileage will improve, as vehicles stay at the same speed (acceleration reduces efficiency). Cars can safely drive more closely to one another, and will benefit from lowered wind resistance.
With groups of cars moving at predictable speeds, congestion will improve. And the stress of the daily commute will be alleviated, with time in the car to read or relax.
But the road train faces the same dilemmas as the self-driving car: Questions of accountability in the event of an accident must be answered, and confidence in the technology must be earned.
In a survey last month, 40 percent of British drivers said they would never consider using a driverless car. Yet Google's autonomous car has driven more than 300,000 miles without incident, according to Road.cc. That's a figure many human drivers have not matched.
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