One of Volvo’s most recent projects in automotive safety, the “road train,” is finished testing and might well bring autonomous driving to life soon, the brand says.
While there are already a sprinkling of self-driving cars on the road courtesy of Google, key differences in how Volvo’s system works could make it more practical for consumers.
“The road train is the best of two worlds. You can enjoy all the multi-tasking possibilities of public transportation behind the wheel of your own car. It’s the perfect complement to the true pleasure of driving a Volvo yourself,” says Erik Coelingh, Volvo technical specialist.
Unlike Google’s self-driven car, this technology is integrated by the original equipment manufacturer. Google, on the other hand, uses a repurposed Toyota Prius. But that isn’t all. As the name suggests, the “road train” is a convoy of cars.
“The basic principle is that the following vehicles repeat the motion of the lead vehicle,” Coelingh says. “To achieve this we have extended the camera, radar and laser technology used in present safety and support systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control, City Safety, Lane Keeping Aid, Blind Sport Information System and Park Assist Pilot.”
That means the system isn’t capable of truly autonomous driving, but on long distance trips it would allow drivers to rest during long portions of their journey.
Essentially an evolution on the idea of adaptive cruise control, the system goes further by integrating vehicle-to-vehicle communication and a touchscreen interface drivers can use to join or leave the road train among other commands.
Apart from making commuting easier, Volvo says the system can increase vehicle efficiency by between 10 and 20 percent. Still, that doesn’t mean you can expect it to come Stateside any time soon. Google’s spooky self driving cars are already making fantastic fodder for unscrupulous political scare ads and the brouhaha isn’t likely to boil down easily.
Expect to see more of it as cars and systems like this move into the mainstream. Nasty politicians aside, the project was conducted according to European safety standards which could make it hard to integrate on U.S. streets. Before that can even be considered, Coelingh admits that hurdles remain in Europe as well.
“There are several issues to solve before road trains become a reality on European roads. As the leader in car safety, Volvo Car Corporation is particularly focused on emergency situations such as obstacle avoidance or sudden braking. However, we are convinced that road trains have great potential,” Coelingh says.