You may not have heard of vehicle platooning before, but if Volvo and a European Union-financed consortium have their way, that might be about to change.
The SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project has carried out its first successful demonstration of platooning technology at the Volvo Proving Ground in Sweden.
The vehicle platooning concept sounds like something out of the science-fiction film I, Robot. Under SARTRE’s concept, a convoy of vehicles autonomously follows a lead car driven by a professional. The vehicles are connected to each other wirelessly and can leave the procession at any time. Once in the platoon, drivers do not need to turn the steering wheel or touch the pedals, allowing them to focus on work or family, or potentially even sleep behind the wheel.
The initial testing included just one car following a leading truck, and was the first time the technology of seven different SARTRE members from four different countries had been used together.
SARTRE project coordinator, Tom Robinson, said the successful testing was a major milestone for the European research program.
“Platooning offers the prospect of improved road safety, better road space utilisation, improved driver comfort on long journeys and reduced fuel consumption and hence CO2 emissions,” Mr Robinson said.
“With the combined skills of its participating companies, SARTRE is making tangible progress towards the realisation of safe and effective road train technology.”
According to SARTRE, driver distraction is responsible for more than 80 percent of road accidents, a statistic that platooning could potentially slash, and theoretically eliminate altogether.
Platooning is also predicted to reduce fuel consumption and subsequent CO2 emissions by as much as 20 percent.
Another major advantage is the potential to reduce traffic congestion, with vehicles able to travel at highway speeds with just metres separating them.
Volvo and the rest of the SARTRE consortium believe the technology could be ready for launch on public roads by the year 2020.
Developing the technology will without doubt be the easy part of the project, however. The real challenge will be convincing motorists and governments that it is safe for you to put your feet up while travelling at 110km/h with a just a couple of metres separating you from the cars in front and behind.