Volvo Researches ‘Road Train’ Software Technology For Future Hands-Free Driving

June 14, 2011

An intriguing story out of Fast Company really got us thinking: Could U.S. drivers one day (in the rather distant future) be convinced to join a “road train” and engage in truly hands-free driving?

The concept is more than just a fantasy. Volvo is already hard at work developing software that allows cars equipped with the technology to follow a professional driver in a “lead car.” These “road trains,” also called “vehicle platoons” are seen by Volvo (and the seven companies currently involved in the research) as technology that could reduce congestion and increase speed and fuel economy on European roads by 2020.

Erik Coelingh, a Volvo technical specialist, told the publication that what Volvo is doing is easier than what Google is trying to do with their driverless car experiments. “What we are trying to do is take a step in the middle between the adaptive cruise control cars that we have today and the Google car that we have in the future,” said Coelingh.

Check out the video below for an up-close look at where the research stands today. It’s a fascinating peek behind-the-scenes at how Volvo, a leader in safety research, is working to put together a real-world solution to combat traffic congestion.

Not that this idea will gain any traction here in America – not anytime soon, that is. Imagine giving up control of your vehicle to a lead driver and having the peace of mind to sit back, read a newspaper, watch a video, and work on your computer or text as you please? This sounds like something that may be a good idea, but there are a whole slew of kinks to be worked out before it becomes a reality – in Europe and elsewhere.

For one thing, there’s the whole issue of new laws and rules to regulate traffic. There’s also the issue of requiring the road train lead driver to have special training and licensing. Volvo’s testing already utilizes a breathalyzer test before the road train driver can start the vehicle and a facial visual tracker that monitors the driver’s face to detect any signs that traffic is distracting him.

What happens if the lead vehicle gets into an accident? What if there’s a software glitch? The list of 'what ifs' is long.

Volvo says it is working on making sure the technology works. It’s up to others to work out the rest of the issues.

Public acceptance – regardless of how advanced the technology, the number of laws and regulations enacted – will be a long time coming.

Still, it’s intriguing. It’s also good to know that Volvo is taking the lead – no pun intended – in such far-reaching safety technology.

[Fast Company via MSNBC]

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