Self-driving Volvo cars take to the road in Spain

The possibility of autonomous driving is getting more real — it’s only a matter of time before motorists can use cell phones while driving

Volvo’s self-driving cars may soon make it possible for motorists to use their tablets or laptops when driving.

The initial test for Volvo’s autonomous vehicles has already proved successful. A convoy of Volvo’s autonomous cars did a 200 km journey on a Spanish motorway as part of the tests.

The company interconnected the cars via a wireless system that allowed them to “mimic” a lead vehicle being driven by a professional driver. The cars deployed during the test included a Volvo XC60, a Volvo V60 and a Volvo S60. A truck was used as the “pace setter” for the convoy during the trial run. The convoy of self-driving cars drove at about 52 mph separated by an in-between gap of 19 feet.

Volvo’s initial tests and its considerable success mark a significant milestone towards mainstream usage of autonomous cars. Deploying the vehicles in real-time traffic amongst other road users provides crucial pointers requisite for mainstream usage.

The cars feature standard gear for self-driving vehicles such as radar, laser sensors, and cameras. Through “mimicking” the lead vehicle (truck), the autonomous vehicles can brake, accelerate and turn in a similar manner.

The project is the work Volvo and partners such as Ricardo UK, Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia of Spain, Institut fur Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen (IKA) of Germany and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.

Volvo remains confident the vehicles may be available in the near future.

If successful, the initiative will highlight the dawn of relaxed driving. Motorists would do everything else except drive, for instance have lunch, finish up some work on a laptop, or simply enjoy “relaxed autonomous chauffeuring”.

The project, known as Sartre - Safe Road Trains for the Environment, is funded by the European Commission. According to Linda Wahlstroem, project manager for the Sartre project at Volvo Car Corporation, autonomous driving may soon cross over from the sci-fi realm into the real world, thanks to advances in technology.

Thus far, the vehicles have covered some 10,000 km on test circuits.

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