Motorists may soon be able to use their cellphones while driving without fear of getting a ticket. In fact, they may be able to take their eyes off the road completely.
Volvo has successfully completed a public test of a self-driven convoy of cars. A human driver led the convoy of three self-driven vehicles, which mimicked the lead driver's actions through a wireless link.
"Driving among other road-users is a great milestone in our project. It was truly thrilling," Linda Wahlstroem, project manager for the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project at Volvo Car Corp., told the BBC. "We covered 200km in one day and the test turned out well. We're really delighted."
The four vehicles completed a 125-mile voyage across a Spanish roadway traveling at an average speed of 52 mph.
You can watch a 2011 test video of the SARTRE system:
The SARTRE test was carried out as part of a European Commission research project. If offered to the public, Volvo says, the self-driving convoys could also allow commuters to "work on their laptops, read a book or sit back and enjoy a relaxed lunch" while traveling.
Of course, while the technology is exciting (the SARTRE system uses cameras, radar and laser sensors), the net effect would have some of the same drawbacks as public transportation. After all, you'd have to be traveling in the same direction as your convoy leader.
Still, Volvo says, the "road train" may be a viable future option for motorists and has added value since it would not require the development of new vehicles or roadways.
"People think that autonomous driving is science fiction, but the fact is that the technology is already here. From the purely conceptual viewpoint, it works fine and road train will be around in one form or another in the future," Wahlstroem told the BBC.
"We've focused really hard on changing as little as possible in existing systems. Everything should function without any infrastructure changes to the roads or expensive additional components in the cars."
No word on whether the SARTRE name was inspired by the French existentialist author Jean-Paul Sartre.
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