How’s this for a perfect start to a long trip? You get in your car and drive a short distance to the highway.
There, you slip in behind a line of cars. You push a button and the car follows the line obediently while you sip your coffee, check your emails or maybe even play cards with your passengers.
Once you’re near your destination, you take hold of the wheel, get off at your exit, and then drive the rest of the way.
It sounds futuristic, but Volvo is already testing such a system -- called platooning -- in Sweden.
It partly relies on systems already available on Volvo cars, such as active cruise control, its City Safety collision prevention and blind spot monitoring, says Dr. Erik Coelingh, technical leader of active safety functions for Volvo Car Corporation.
“However, we do need to add vehicle-to-vehicle communication in order to control the motion of the vehicles in a safe and comfortable way,” he says.
A trained operator drives the lead vehicle and could be a bus or truck driver, Coelingh says. Eight to 10 cars would be ideal, since longer “trains” could block entrances and exits for other motorists.
To join a platoon, you would use your navigation system to find a road train going in your preferred direction, and once close enough, you’d send a request to the lead vehicle to join.
“After they accept, you electronically pay the lead vehicle driver and you semi-automatically join from the rear, similarly to approaching a lead vehicle with active cruise control,” Coelingh says.
“Once you are at the targeted position, steering will also be done automatically.”
Volvo said platooning may be viable in as little as 10 years.