Project Sartre: Volvo road train travels 120 miles autonomously in Spain

Project Sartre: Volvo road train travels 120 miles autonomously in Spain

Up until recently, protecting the environment and improving fuel economy didn’t necessarily rank high on the automotive industry’s to-do list, leaving national and governmental agencies to legislate on the matter and encourage new and effective ways to deal with issues pertaining to fuel economy and the environment. The good news is automakers seem to be slowly shaping up, and the even better news is some truly unique solutions to our energy problems are starting to bloom. One of the more innovative programs to come from a government-funded initiative is the European Union’s Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project, which recently underwent its first public motorway test in Spain.

Not familiar with Project Sartre? Then, we’ll happily you bring you up to speed.

The project is a collective effort funded by the European Commission, and led by British company Ricardo which develops engines, transmissions, and vehicles systems among other things. Chief among the consortium’s participants is Swedish auto manufacturer Volvo.

Utilizing Volvo’s own automobiles, the project works by stringing together a group of cars in order to form a road train. This train (or caravan if you prefer) allows a group of cars to follow one another along any road autonomously. Guided by a lead truck driven by a professional driver, the group of autonomous autos  can communicate wirelessly via advanced software, cameras, laser sensors, radar, and GPS-based technology in order to mimic the lead truck’s driving behavior. The drivers turn, the following cars turn. The driver slows down, the following cars slow down. All while maintaining  appropriate distance and speed.

Project Sartre

While up to eight vehicles can be used, Volvo recently tested out just three: a S60, V60, and a XC30. Each car was driven autonomously following a truck for 124 miles at a distance of 20 feet, and traveling at about 53 miles per hour on the roads outside of Barcelona.

Other than looking rather impressive, what’s the point? Well, not only is autonomous driving insanely awesome – representing the real-life fulfillment of one of our most beloved science fiction technologies — in this scenario it also happens to be incredibly fuel efficient thanks to the road train’s persistent drag reduction while along its route. Early estimates indicate as much as 20 percent more efficient when it comes to reducing fuel costs, something Volvo is very keen to explore further after completing its recent event which it deemed “highly successful.”

Total Recall Cab scene

Okay, so it’s cool, and it might help save the earth, but are there any “real” benefits? Sure, apart from freeing drivers up during longer hauls and added fuel economy, it turns out systems like Sartre also have the potential to implement an added element of safety. Longer road trips generally equate to prolonged spells on the open road where tiredness and lack of awareness can culminate into reckless and dangerous driving. In contrast, an autonomously driven caravan would eliminate all of that: no getting lost; no getting tired; and best of all your travels would be undertaken in groups and monitored via the lead driver and not the robot pictured above.

With Volvo having just completed yet another successful test run (it’s been testing Sartre since 2009), we’re excited to move away from the perceived benefits and mere estimates to more solid, on the ground, concrete figures in the not-so-distant-future. As is the case with other autonomous driving programs like Google’s and General Motor’s EN-V concept, it’s going to be some time before we see systems like Sartre put into mainstream practice or use. But until then, most of us will have to be content with dreaming of the future instead of driving it (or not driving it, as the case may be).

Product Review

Mercedes-Benz updates the timeless G-wagen for the modern world

For decades, the G-Class has been an outlier in the Mercedes-Benz portfolio, a body-on-frame brute with the soul – and driving manners – of an off-road pickup. With the all-new G550, Mercedes seeks to smooth out some of the rough edges.

2020 GMC Acadia toughens up on the outside, gets smarter on the inside

The 2020 GMC Acadia crossover gets styling updates and a more rugged AT4 trim level. Under the skin, the Acadia sports a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a wider array of tech features.
Product Review

The 2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country is a do-it-all Swedish army knife

Volvo laced up its smallest station wagon in hiking clothes to create the V60 Cross Country. It's a lifted, all-wheel drive wagon that laughs at icy roads while coddling its occupants. We travel to Sweden to try it out.
Product Review

Bigger battery and folding top add appeal, but BMW’s i8 remains ultra-niche

Want a high-performance vehicle that's more than just a frightening driving experience? Desire the look and feel of a sports car with the road manners of a luxury commuter? The BMW i8 is for you.

General Motors cycles into a new market with its first-ever ebikes

When General Motors launched a public campaign last year to name its new ebike brand, many wondered if Bikey McBikeface might win out. But it didn't. Instead, it's called Arīv, and the two bikes are up for pre-order this week.

The Polestar 2, Sweden’s answer to the Tesla Model 3, begins taking shape

Volvo sister company Polestar has released a teaser image to give us our first look at the 2, its second model. Polestar tells us the 2 will arrive as a four-door fastback with a 400-hp electric powertrain and about 300 miles of range.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

2020 Kia Soul and Soul EV continue to think inside the box

The 2020 Kia Soul is the third generation of Kia's boxy curiosity. The Soul maintains its signature look, but gets tech and powertrain upgrades. The all-electric Soul EV returns as well.

Psychedelic Volkswagen Microbus from Woodstock returns for an encore

With its trippy paint scheme, the Volkswagen "Light" bus became a symbol of the 1969 Woodstock music festival. VW teamed up with the artist who created this rolling mural to stage a comeback in time for Woodstock's 50th anniversary.

Amazon plugs in with $700 million investment in electric pickup company Rivian

Amazon invested $700 million for a minority stake in U.S. all-electric truck maker Rivian, according to a joint release. The announcement follows a Reuters report that GM and Amazon might invest $1 billion to $2 billion in the company.

2019 RAM 1500 Classic Warlock special edition: Badass style without the whoop

If you like the looks of blacked-out badass trucks without the cost of a desert racer, FCA announced the 2019 Ram 1500 Classic Warlock, a special edition pickup that focuses on appearance with only a touch of additional off-road capability.

Nissan is using old Leaf batteries to power and connect off-the-grid campers

Nissan has teamed up with trailer manufacturer Opus to design a mobile, weatherproof power pack built with battery cells sourced from the first-generation Leaf. Called Roam, the pack stores enough electricity to power a camper for up to a…

Alfa Romeo’s latest Ferrari-powered F1 race car is ready to hit the track

Alfa Romeo is doubling down on Formula One racing after a decades-long hiatus. Now essentially a support team for Ferrari, its 2019 driver lineup includes a former world champion and a potential future star.

Researchers teach self-driving cars to predict pedestrians’ next moves

University of Michigan researchers are developing a system that teaches self-driving cars to predict pedestrian movement. Humans don't always act in their own best self-interest, so autonomous cars will need to practice protective driving.