Peter Anderson | May 29, 2012

Volvo's SARTRE technology, short for 'Safe Road Trains for the Environment', has made its first public appearance in a multi-car convoy.

The technology involves a combination of autonomous driving in a human-led convoy, the lead vehicle controlling the speed and position of the vehicles behind.

Guided by a specially-equipped freight truck, the test saw a convoy of various Volvo models - including an S60 sedan, V60 wagon, XC60 SUV and a second truck - travelling at 85km/h along a 200 kilometre course.

Volvo demonstrated the system's capabilities by varying the distance between the vehicles from five to 15 metres.

"We've focused really hard on changing as little as possible in existing systems," Linda Wahlström, Volvo's project manager on SARTRE, said. "Everything should function without any infrastructure changes to the roads or expensive additional components in the cars."

"Apart from the software developed as part of the project, it is really only the wireless network installed between the cars that sets them apart from other cars available in showrooms today."

Liberated from their driving duties, motorists are free to tackle other tasks. Volvo suggests a few options: get some work done, read a book, or sit back and enjoy a relaxed lunch.

Volvo describes the technology as a means of combatting fatigue, driver distraction and speeding. Thanks to the close precision driving, a fuel saving of up to 20 percent has also been recorded.

Fuel consumption claims will be further tested in the next round of development.

Led by Volvo and UK partner Ricardo, the SARTRE project has been developed with Idiada and Tecnalia of Spain, Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen of Germany and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.

While this 200 kilometre course marks the technology's debut on public roads, the system has been tested over 10,000km on closed courses.

The technology is still some way off appearing everyday cars, but the group is confident of achieving government approval for consumer use in the not too distant future.

The biggest obstacle, however, will be convincing motorists that the technology is safe.

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