| 6th June 2012
Google isn't the only company experimenting with self-drive technology. Last month they released a video where blind Steve Mahan used the search giant's modified Toyota Prius to navigate around town to do his chores.
Google says it hasn't got any plans to release the technology in a commercial sense. There are other companies looking to leapfrog Google, though - General Motors believes its Cadillac division will release a fully autonomous car in the next decade.
The Train in Spain Drives Mainly on the Plain
There's a new challenger about to enter the ring, though, that counts Volvo as a partner and has recently conducted a practical experiment on a Spanish motorway. The Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project is a collaboration between a number of different companies, and is partly funded by the European Commission. Their website says that SARTRE wants to 'encourage a step change in personal transport usage by developing of environmental roadtrains called platoons.'
Such a platoon was out in force at the end of May on a Spanish motorway, covering 127 miles of public road, powered entirely by self-drive technology. With a truck leading the way, the convoy (which included a Volvo XC60, V60 and S60) all kept in line via a wireless signal, following the truck's every movement.
Each car was kept approximately 20 feet apart, which was deemed the ideal distance and helped to reduce wind drag. Making cars more fuel-efficient is another one of SARTRE's goals, and the convoy/platoon system is seen as a brilliant way to get more mileage out of vehicles.
The SARTRE Charter
SARTRE project director Tom Robinson was is delighted with the progress the technology is making. "This is a very significant milestone in the development of safe road train technology. 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 utilization and reduced carbon dioxide emissions."
SARTRE also wants to challenge the issue of accidents on the roads caused by human error, but understand that people may be initially wary of letting a car do all their driving for them on a busy (European) motorway, but project manager Linda Wahlstrom was quick to point out the positives. "People think that autonomous driving is science fiction, but the fact is that the technology is already here. From a purely conceptual viewpoint, it works fine and road train will be around in one form or another in the future."
Images courtesy of The SARTRE Project.
What do you think of the SARTRE project, or autonomous cars in general? Are they the next big thing or are we powering head-first into a future we're just not ready for yet, where cars become our masters and enslave presidents, forcing humanity to drink petrol and do its bidding? Let us know your thoughts by tweeting @Askaprice on Twitter, or liking our Facebook page.
Written by Jake Higginson.