Ricardo UK demonstrates road train on Spanish motorway

Ricardo UK has successfully demonstrated a road train on a motorway in Spain.

A road train consists of a lead vehicle driven by a professional driver followed by a number of vehicles.

One lead vehicle and four trailing vehicles — consisting of a Volvo S60, a Volvo V60 and a Volvo XC60 plus a truck — made up the road train on a motorway outside Barcelona. The vehicles drove at 85kmph and the gap between each vehicle was just 6m.

The demonstration occurred through the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project, which is aiming to develop technologies that enable vehicle platoons to operate on normal public highways with significant environmental, safety and comfort benefits.

‘This is a very significant milestone in the development of safe road train technology,’ said SARTRE project director, Tom Robinson of Ricardo. ‘For the very first time we have been able to demonstrate a convoy of autonomously driven vehicles following a lead vehicle with its professional driver, in a mixed-traffic environment on a European motorway.

‘While there remain many challenges to full-scale implementation, the SARTRE project has demonstrated a very practical approach to the implementation of safe road train technology that is capable of delivering an improved driving experience, better road space utilisation and reduced carbon dioxide emissions.’

Building on Volvo Car Corporation’s and Volvo Technology’s already existing safety systems — including cameras, radar and laser sensors — the vehicles monitor the lead vehicle and also other vehicles in their immediate vicinity. By adding in wireless communication, the vehicles in the platoon ‘mimic’ the lead vehicle using Ricardo autonomous control — accelerating, braking and turning in exactly the same way as the leader.

‘People think that autonomous driving is science fiction, but the fact is that the technology is already here. From the purely conceptual viewpoint, it works fine and road trains will be around in one form or another in the future,’ said Linda Wahlström, project manager for the SARTRE project at Volvo Car Corporation.

After the test on the public roads in Spain, the project is now entering a new phase with the focus on analysis of fuel consumption.

The SARTRE project is a joint venture between Ricardo UK Ltd, Applus+ Idiada, Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen (IKA), SP Technical Research Institute, Volvo Technology and Volvo Car Corporation.