Malcolm Flynn | Sep 18, 2012

Volvo is aiming to lead the automotive industry with mainstream application of autonomous driving systems.

The Swedish brand has a long-established reputation for passenger safety innovation, and sees self-driving cars as the next big step in this area.

In developing its new SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) technology, Volvo says it sees autonomous driving as an ideal marriage of motoring and multi-tasking.

This dichotomy is nothing new however, with organisations as diverse as Google and General Motors also working on similar autonomous programs.

Earlier this year, Volvo and partner Ricardo spearheaded the SARTRE vehicle platooning project, which saw a convoy of three passenger vehicles autonomously follow two guiding freight trucks over a 200km road course at speeds up to 90km/h.

"Our aim is to gain leadership in the field of autonomous driving by moving beyond concepts and pioneering technologies that will reach the customers,” Volvo’s Marcus Rothoff said in a recent statement.

“Making these features reliable enough to use on public roads is crucial to boosting customer confidence in self-driving cars."

Volvo sees slow moving traffic queues as the first likely mass-market application of the technology, with SARTRE-style motorway platooning following in the longer term.

The fundamentals of the technology that make SARTRE platooning possible are already present in many modern vehicles, including adaptive cruise control, lane guidance, pedestrian and blindspot warning, and automatic parking systems.

Key additions to these technologies are systems that facilitate the joining of the SARTRE platoon, along with enabling constant communication between the vehicles.

Volvo has also pointed out the similarity of this technology to aviation autopilot systems, which contribute far more to modern air travel than many passengers realise.

However, several regulatory issues will need to be resolved before autonomous driving systems can be used on public roads.

Mr Rothoff believes that these issues can be overcome though, and is “convinced that autonomous systems will take car driving into a whole new dimension, and Volvo intends to lead the way when it comes to bringing these new technologies all the way to the customers."

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