back to article Self-driving Volvos cover 200km of busy Spanish motorway

Three cars have successfully driven themselves by automatically following a lorry for 125 miles on a public motorway in the presence of other, normal road users. The real-world trial, conducted in Spain by Volvo and car automation specialist Ricardo, put technology created for Project Sartre (Safe Road Trains for the …

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  1. Lockwood
    WTF?

    Worried

    All well and good until something goes wrong.

    The lady reading at the wheel will notice something has gone wrong, and by the time she reassumes a ready position, it is too late.

    This would work, so long as the driver remains available to take control.

    Also, if the driver is left to get on with other stuff, they'll end up following a random lorry into the HGV parking area of Sandbach MSA, not notice this then get hit with a parking invoice from CP Plus for parking a car in the HGV area, and being there for over 2 hours.

    1. Alfred

      Re: Worried

      "All well and good until something goes wrong."

      The exact same thing can be said about the current meat-bag controlled version of driving.

      "The lady reading at the wheel will notice something has gone wrong, and by the time she reassumes a ready position, it is too late."

      If only there was some way we could anticipate in advance the possibility that things might go wrong, and have some kind of automated safety system that will give the driver the time needed to take over. Perhaps simply slowing down whilst remaining within the lines, or some other such crazytech.

      Automated cars are not perfect, but safer than meatbags.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Worried

        They are Volvos. You know, bricks on wheels. A Volvo road train would be like a moving wall.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Worried

          >They are Volvos

          I'm more worried about them running off to chase motorbikes

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Worried

        A computer can't be truly intelligent, so claiming a computer will be better than a human is rubbish.

        Sure, a computer doesn't get tired, a computer doesn't get distracted and computers can be made to behave consistently. But human "hardware" is more reliable than computer hardware.

        The lifespan of a human when looked after is much longer than any computer or electronic system. Try finding a computer that is 70 years old and still in use and working fine.

        Do some reading about cosmic rays (don't laugh) and their effect on computer memory. There's been instances of planes plummeting due to the effects of cosmic rays on "fly by wire" systems. As memory density increases the problem will get worse, Intel have patented cosmic ray error detection for this reason.

        1. Mike Richards

          Re: Worried

          'Sure, a computer doesn't get tired, a computer doesn't get distracted and computers can be made to behave consistently. But human "hardware" is more reliable than computer hardware.'

          A computer doesn't get bored or tired, it doesn't get distracted by the pretty young girl driving the red Mini in the other lane (hello!) and it doesn't get into a fight with its spouse for looking at the pretty young girl driving the red Mini in the other lane (of course I don't know her!)

        2. BristolBachelor Gold badge
          FAIL

          Re: Worried

          "A computer can't be truly intelligent, so claiming a computer will be better than a human is rubbish."

          That is refreshing to know. So when I ask my calculator what is 3 x 3 and get the answer 9, then I can be sure that the answer is not 9, because I am more intelligent than my calculator?

          "The lifespan of a human...computer that is 70 years old and still in use..."

          So are you suggesting that computer controlled cars should only be used for journeys that take less than 70 years?

          Oh and I know a lot about cosmic rays, and their effect on all sorts of technology, not just memory. However, normally these cars are only driven on the surface, where cosmic rays don't reach because they hit the molecules in the air on their way down and don't reach this far. As long as they don't drive these Volvos in space, we should be OK too.

          I know I shouldn't feed the trolls, but I wan't sure if you really were a troll, or just a failing Turing test.

          1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

            Volvos in Space

            My new band name.

        3. Nick Stallman
          FAIL

          Re: Worried

          "Do some reading about cosmic rays (don't laugh) and their effect on computer memory. There's been instances of planes plummeting due to the effects of cosmic rays on "fly by wire" systems"

          Yet they are *still* safer than getting in to your car. Funny that.

        4. Thorne

          Re: Worried

          "A computer can't be truly intelligent, so claiming a computer will be better than a human is rubbish."

          Actually a lot of humans can't claim being truely intelligent (and some can't claim slightly intelligent) and their allowed behind the wheel.

          "But human "hardware" is more reliable than computer hardware."

          A computer isn't drunk or stoned or just a revv head f-wit. It doesn't need to sleep and will ignore the two kids fighting in the back seat. Yes the computer might crash and kill someone but the odds are less than human drivers. People are dying on the road every day. Don't tell me computer will be worse.

          "Try finding a computer that is 70 years old and still in use and working fine."

          At 70 the computer doesn't expect to drive but I can show you a 70 year with failing eyesight, failing reactions driving badly and has no intention of giving up their licence (not until they kill or maim someone)

          The real issue with this system is when the truckie pulls over for a leak and brings an audience with him

          1. Steven Roper

            Re: Worried

            The most stupid thing about all this is the mass media hysteria that will ensue the moment something does go wrong with a computer driven car.

            A meatsack driver crashing a car and killing someone is such a commonplace occurrence that it might - just might - be mentioned in a Page 35 police news boxout in the local rag.

            The first time a computer driver crashes a car and kills someone, it'll be international front-page news on every two-bit rag from the Daily Fail to the New Jerk Times. Then there'll be the inevitable rants for this evil, destructive technology to be banned and restricted into uselessness, even though it will probably have killed less than a hundredth of the people that meatsack drivers kill every day.

            1. Chris Parsons
              Headmaster

              Re: Worried

              Is 'meatsack' the new word used by 'cool' people. Is it as cool as 'sheeple' and 'simples'?

        5. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Worried

          I dare you to give a SINGLE accident report blaming cosmic rays for an incident. Because I can guarantee you won't find it!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Meh

      Re: Worried

      All well and good until something goes wrong.

      Indeed. They should be limited to 4 MPH and have someone walk in front waving a red flag.

    3. Ian 55
      Facepalm

      The big question is...

      .. when it does go wrong, who gets sued?

      The person behind the wheel of the vehicle that hit something else?

      The person behind the wheel of the lead vehicle?

      The programmers and makers of the train system?

      Or, more likely, all of them, along with anyone else vaguely responsible somewhere along the line?

      I'd love to know how much the insurance cost for this stunt, because the legal fees had something gone wrong would have been enormous.

      A friend has just bet someone else that there will be cars driving around London like this within ten years. Obviously, it's technically possible - I remember track demos on Tomorrows World back in the 1970s - but there is still an awfully long way to go before the legal issues are sorted. I must get in on that bet...

      1. Peter Ford
        Go

        Re: The big question is...

        Nobody gets sued, 'cos in the rosy future world where are cars drive us around, we've finally gotten around to shooting all the fscking lawyers...

    4. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Worried

      On the other hand, I would not expect computer to drive more dangerously than a large percentage of drivers (word used without prejudice) in Crete or Cyprus. Driving there was, let us say, an interesting experience, after which a quick bout of dodging charging bulls seems like a pick-nick.

  2. tmTM

    Slight problem

    Who the hell wants to follow a lorry in their car on a motorway??

    Now if they can make the lorrys all follow each other and not mess about trying to overtake each other - clogging up the motorway in the process, then I think they'd really be onto something.

    I can't see anyone wanting to drive a great distance at 56mph, it'd take forever.

    1. Steve Evans

      Re: Slight problem

      Another slight problem... What happens when you find yourself coming up to a junction and the lane leading to the exit you want is full of 100 Volvos all 6 meters apart with none of the drivers paying any attention to other road users and letting them in.

      1. Snapper
        FAIL

        Re: Slight problem

        Exactly what I thought as well. There are some inter motorway junctions on the M25 where this would be a nightmare!

        And what happens when this 'train' tries to come onto the motorway at 56mph? Does everyone else have to swerve int the middle or outer lane (if possible) to avoid it?

        6m is not a lot of braking distance, is it?

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge
          Stop

          Re: Slight problem

          6m is not a lot of braking distance when the lorry driver hits an obstruction in front (due to him changing DVDs over). Thats a big crunchy pile of volvos behind him.

    2. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: Slight problem

      "Who the hell wants to follow a lorry in their car on a motorway??"

      It's called slipstreaming/drafting and it means greater fuel economy. If you're worried about the cost of petrol, it's a good thing. If you just want to get there quickly, you wouldn't be joining a road-train.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Lewis Page would approve.

        Just forget about the car and attach him directly to the lorry.

    3. quarky
      Unhappy

      Re: Slight problem

      "Now if they can make the lorrys all follow each other and not mess about trying to overtake each other - clogging up the motorway in the process, then I think they'd really be onto something."

      Don't forget one truck at 56mph in Lane 1, and the other at 56.1mph in Lane 2. Effectively turning the M1 into a rolling roadblock.

    4. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Slight problem

      Who the hell wants to follow a lorry you ask? Have you ever seen the Spanish concept of 'braking distance'?

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Pete 2

    But does it fail safe?

    If this "platoon" is dependent on the lead lorry to provide guidance, what happens when LL fails, breaks, or loses its wifi?

    I appreciate that this is more of a testbed/demonstrator than a viable option, but the key question isn't so much "can it be made to work?" but should be "what happens when it fails?" Even requiring each vehicle to have a drive who could take over isn't a complete solution. If that driver is busy doing something else: reading the paper, having lunch, getting "cosy" with the passenger, leaning out of the window trying to lick the tyres - or whatever else bored drivers get up to. If the driver can't get back to a position where they can take over quickly, or the car doesn't do something sensible on it's own then the system can't be usable.

    Hopefully this particular implementation won't crash and kill everyone involved each time it goes past a roadside cafe offering free WiFi!

    1. Emj

      Re: But does it fail safe?

      Up vote just for the licking the tyres option!

      1. Pete 2

        @Emj

        Don't try this without expert supervision. Get your tongue stuck in the tread at speed could well be grounds for divorce.

    2. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: But does it fail safe?

      "If this "platoon" is dependent on the lead lorry to provide guidance, what happens when LL fails, breaks, or loses its wifi?"

      I don't think it's dependent on any particular vehicle -- I believe the point of such technology is that any vehicle can be the lead, allowing ad hoc roadtrains to be formed with no prior planning.

      The reason for a lorry taking point here may be the increased draft/slipstream/windshadow of the larger vehicle, or it maybe that they wanted to use a more powerful (and therefore more reliable) wifi transmitter in the test, just to be safe.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Project Sartre

    "Hell is other " drivers

    1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Project Sartre

      Jean-Paul Sartre also wrote Huis Clos, translated into English as No Exit or Dead End. Just like following a lorry for hundreds of miles.

      I notice the Swedes were sharp enough not to use their own motorway for this adventure.

  6. ravenviz
    Facepalm

    What happens when the traffic lights change to red 'mid platoon'?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's easy

      Elias gets shot!

    2. Lee Dowling Silver badge

      Or the lead lorry falls off the edge of a cliff?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ravenviz

      >What happens when the traffic lights change to red 'mid platoon'?

      Anybody familiar with driving in Spain will know that when the lights turn red at least five cars will follow through so interrupting a three car convoy will not be a problem.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @ravenviz

        "Anybody familiar with driving in Spain will know that when the lights turn red at least five cars will follow through"

        Sorry but that's not true. Largely speaking, Spanish drivers are on the civilised side of the scale (Barcelonians excepted), quite unlike most places in England, particularly the South, where everyone seem to think the road has been made especially for them and other users are nothing but a nuisance.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @ravenviz @AC05:20

          No need to apologise, just come and live in Madrid for a few days and then see what you think. On my daily drive to and from work there are two sets of lights where I can guarentee a number of cars will go through on red.

    4. fandom

      Not that many traffic light in motorways.

      This is not like the Google self driving cars, this is just for motorways/highways.

  7. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    FAIL

    Why?

    We've had vehicles capable of safely following a lead vehicle in a group and at the same speed for a century or so... I think they're called 'trains'.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why?

      Every time I pass the old Motorail terminal at Paddington I think 'Why don't they bring this service back?'.

      It would offer most of the benefits of this technology without you needing a new car or retro-fitting gizmos to it. Best of all you can go and have a beer in the restaurant car while you're en route.

      1. Edwin
        Thumb Up

        Re: Why?

        Still around in some places.

        Park your car on the train in Helsinki, wake up in your sleeper cabin the next morning in Rovaniemi. You get a decent night's sleep, save driving 1200km and it cost me less than petrol plus a hotel.

        There are loads of others around Europe, but the Finnish one is the only one I've tried. And the beer was acceptable.

  8. Wize

    What about all the unprogrammed exceptions?

    Programmed to follow the car in front. Till someone squeezes in between them and ends up with a convoy on his driveway at home.

    Google cars have been driving around for a while without human intervention and plan to go meatbag-free soon. What happens in an accident? Who do you swap insurance details with?

    Are they set up to handle someone waving at the side of the road warning that the bridge ahead is out?

    Can they handle a policeman standing in the middle of the road directing traffic?

    What do they do if shunted on a motorway? Sit waiting till one of their techs come and tell it how to get to the hard shoulder?

    What if it has a sensor failure or a sensor disagreement? Does it stop dead where it is or guesses? And with the backlog of cars behind it, its going to be all day till that technician can get to it.

    And its going to be a laugh when these bad boys find some roadworks.

    I could go on with a list of possible problems, but I'd be here all day.

    Guess my point is, I don't think they are ready yet.

    1. Lockwood

      Re: What about all the unprogrammed exceptions?

      What happens when you follow the lorry to the Sainsbury's distribution centre?

      Let's assume you get through the gate and it doens't squash you as it auto-closes.

      Let's assume you don't have to deal with a rising anti-ram bollard.

      The lorry has pulled in, and as now about to reverse into a loading bay. Your car is also going to try to do this. Probably with hilarious results.

      Now, before anyone says "The driver would notice and take control", we're talking about people who are going to be busy trying to lick their tyres (Thanks, Pete!) and if they didn't have the car driving itself would happily cross a flooded ford because the SatNav told them to, or would "turn left in 100 yards" up the level crossing rather than the junction just beyond the level crossing.

    2. JDX Gold badge

      Guess my point is, I don't think they are ready yet.

      No, I guess your point is that you're hugely unimaginative and assuming they didn't consider any of these things, and the software is an order of magnitude dumber than it probably is.

      Road Trains seem a wonderful idea to me.

      1. Wize

        Re: Guess my point is, I don't think they are ready yet.

        So, JDX, how do you program it to know the difference between someone in a panic, waving at the car to stop because of the emergency situation ahead, and some drunk at the side of the road who thinks you are a taxi?

        Some students have been messing about at the cross roads. They have been tilting all the lights round to point at different angles. How do you know which one is which? I was at the same situation at a five-way junction, where some of the angles are tight for knowing what light does which road. There are many judgement calls that have to be made when driving.

        Just like any program ever written, there is going to be a case that hasn't been coded for. Yes, they may get a lot of scenarios, but capture every possible eventuality?

    3. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Re: What about all the unprogrammed exceptions?

      Exactly right. You can't really have true/false decisions for real world problems. Hence neural nets, but neural nets need programming to tune up their "weighting".

      It's all very well killing people and then having the system adjust to make the decision correct the next time. But it's not exactly fair to kill so many people is it?

  9. tony72

    Misnomer

    They're not really self-driving are they, any more than the carriages of a train are self driving. At least, "following the vehicle in front" is a pretty specific sub-set of "driving".

    And same as Lockwood, I'm wondering what happens when the vehicle you're following leaves the route you want to be on. I'm sure they've thought of that, but no details in the article. I think this tech would be best used as an adjunct to proper Google-style self-driving tech, i.e. the self-driving cars automatically platoon to save fuel and improve traffic flow, but are fully capable of navigating autonomously when not platooning, or when the lead vehicleis leaving the desired route.

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: Misnomer

      Your onboard computer and their onboard computer talk, and they know when the routes are diverging.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wouldn't work on UK motorways

    6m gap between cars in "platoon" ... try that in the UK and in no time another car will pull into the gap!

    N.b. why did they follow a lorry (presumably limited to lower speed than rest of traffic) is probably precisely because of this ... other drivers will automatically see the lorry as the slowing down the queue of cars and thus overtake them all.

    1. Alfred

      Re: Wouldn't work on UK motorways

      I picked a Ford Focus as the first standard-type car I could think of; on investigation, they look to be about four metres long.

      http://www.parkers.co.uk/cars/reviews/facts-and-figures/ford/focus/hatchback-1998/dimensions/

      If slipping between two cars with a single metre of slack ahead (about the distance from your left shoulder to your horizantally extended right hand - almost touching distance!) and a single metre of slack behind at 60 mph is the kind of thing meatbags get up to, the sooner they're removed from the driving process the better :)

      1. Wize

        Re: Wouldn't work on UK motorways

        "If slipping between two cars with a single metre of slack ahead..."

        Been there, seen it. There is always some nutter forcing their way into gaps that their car wont fit into, on the premise that the other driver will break. Same idiots who tailgate. No thought about their own, or anyone else's, life.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wouldn't work on UK motorways

      > N.b. why did they follow a lorry

      Seems to be their own lorry, presumably carrying all the test gear, if not the cars themselves, from Sweden? You'll notice the cars have Swedish plates.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sounds very very basic to me..

    So what happens if a car pulls into that 6m gap? i've seen cars pull into smaller gaps...

    What happens in an accident? do they have decent emergency systems that will halt the car in an emergency?

    Lots of un-answered questions, and sounds like all it does is follow other cars at a slow speed, you know what? a new VW I brought did that, kept itself in lane and kept a safe distance from the car in front... The wifi seems almost pointless really for this...

    1. Alfred

      Really? A six metre gap at 60 mph?

      "So what happens if a car pulls into that 6m gap? i've seen cars pull into smaller gaps..."

      That gives a metre ahead and a metre behind, at 60 mph. That's a ridiculously small gap to pull into. The driver doing that deserves to be shot (and is definitely guilty of motoring offences). At that speed, one metre is covered in about 0.03 seconds. Three HUNDRETHS of a second. Being one metre behind the car in front at that speed (which is almost touching distance) is effectively suicide, and if people choose to commit suicide by doing that, it won't make a difference if it's meatbags or HAL behind the wheel.

      1. Shaun 1

        Re: Really? A six metre gap at 60 mph?

        Of course it's stupid, but people still do it in the expectation that the car behind will slow down and let them in (no choice otherwise as it's stupid to leave such a small gap)

        The question is, if the person pulling into the small gap doesn't have this system, will the car behind still keep following the original car with a gap of 6m?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Alfred

        When I saw the 6m gap my first thought was how could they have managed 200Km without anybody pulling into the gap especially if, as they claimed, the roads were busy. I won't bother to question your calculations but attempting to commit suicide on the roads sometimes seems to be a national pastime for many Spaniards. Believe me, if there is even the slightest possiblity of getting a car in front they will go for it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @A/C 14:35

          Spanish taxi drivers would get several cars into that gap!

    2. JDX Gold badge

      50mph isn't a slow speed.

      The fact you don't know the answers doesn't mean they do not exist.

  12. David Knapman
    WTF?

    It's incredible

    Wow. Just wow. I sincerely hope the guys who are running these experiments are reading the el reg comments section. Because you guys are *bound* to be the first ones to think "hmm. maybe there will need to be some serious thought put into this system failing safe".

    1. Thorne

      Re: It's incredible

      In reality this system is just a glorified cruise control. The driver will be responsible. You pick a vehicle and lock onto it but the moment the driver tries to manually control anything it will shut off (just like cruise control). It's nothing like google's system.

  13. Steve Evans
    Joke

    6m?

    Is that it? Audi already have a system on the UK roads which get them within 2 meters!

    1. Mark 65

      Re: 6m?

      Damnit you got there first. I was going to say "Audi has a version that cuts the gap down to about 6cm"

      1. Steve Evans

        Re: 6m?

        Sorry Mark ;-)

        It was fresh in my mind as I had that exact Audi pleasure on the way to work in the morning.

        No idea what he was trying to prove. I was quite happy doing just over the limit along with the car in front and the car in front of that and the car in front of that... etc etc

        It's not like he'd ever have been able to impress me with his speed, I was riding my 1000cc sports bike!

        I thought about a kill switch backfire to rattle him a bit, but instead just nipped ahead and put myself two vehicles further up the line.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rome wasn't built in a day.

    As I saw elsewhere, in 15 years, you'll ring your car and get it to come for you, after you've left the theatre.

    Before you went in, you told it to go and park some where, presumably without paying parking fees, and occasionally allowing it to drive about, to avoid paying parking fees.

    Then there will be no point to getting your wife pregnant, when your car can take you home on its own.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rome wasn't built in a day.

      I'm not interested until Volvo put that technology into this car. - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6-BrJ0RDfw

    2. Alfred

      Re: Rome wasn't built in a day.

      I suspect you'll ring _a_ car. Why would you have your own?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rome wasn't built in a day.

      Then there will be no point to getting your wife pregnant, when your car can take you home on its own.

      A fair point well made. Clearly these cars are the answer to slowing down the world's population growth, with the added benefit that you're no longer cast aside and demoted to "that man that lives with us and fixes things on demand" once you've produced that heir.

    4. Danny 14 Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: Rome wasn't built in a day.

      "As I saw elsewhere, in 15 years, you'll ring your car and get it to come for you, after you've left the theatre."

      I use this technology already. I have at least 3 numbers in my phone. Radio taxis is my fav, the cars always smell nice.

  15. Kristian Walsh

    Everyone is an expert...

    To counter that, though, let me say that I'm not an expert on this kind of technology, but I did learn how to drive, and I can do some basic maths. This is an impressive feat, and here's why...

    6 m is a very, very short distance to keep at 80km/h (=50mph). 80km/h is approximately 22 metres per second, so if you apply the well-known "2-second rule" for car spacing, it gives you a "safe" distance of 44 m to the car in front (66 m in the wet). So, this system manages to be safe at a seventh of what is considered to be the normal safe distance.

    Sure certain [insert name of your least favourite German car brand] drivers manage to get closer to 6 m separation, but: a. it's not safe, because b. they're pricks who think that having a good car makes you a good driver.

    The higher traffic density wouldn't be the only benefit - the other is that it would average out the traffic speeds. When roads operate at or beyond their design capacity, they start to exhibit chaotic effects - one ill-judged lane change can set up a "braking cascade" where the car immediately behind slows slightly, causing the car behind that to slow more, and so on, and then cars further behind change lanes to avoid the slower traffic, causing their own cascades. Within a couple of minutes, this can bring an entire multi-lane road can come to a complete stop, for no reason. (Which can bring the opposite carriageway to a stop as drivers slow down to see if there's an accident, and set off the whole damn thing again on their side).

    Current solutions to this include the much-maligned variable speed limits on roads like London's M25 (drop the speed limit to suit the traffic density, give drivers more time to react properly, and minimise the chance of cascades), but there is also an idea to use systems like this one: traffic that can operate autonomously could be given its own segregated lane, with slower peak speed, but faster journey time overall.

    For the record, I love driving, and I love cars, but motorways filled with commuter traffic aren't the place for heavy right feet - all you're doing is slowing yourself, slowing others, and getting angrier. The way I see it, the more people we can fit on the motorways, the less traffic there'll be on the more fun-to-drive roads..

    1. trashbat

      Re: Everyone is an expert...

      IF this system manages to be safe at a mere six metre separation. What is the actual stopping distance from 50mph? Let's say that a load falls off another truck (like an MoD tank did a few years ago) and the lead lorry hits it, stopping almost dead. I'd bet that all cars in that convoy hit something. I don't imagine that six metres is the intended long term implementation, but who knows.

      Inter-vehicle negotiation would be the best thing to solve what you discuss, i.e. automatic, destination-based lane changes that are calculated to keep traffic flowing without having to second guess what other people are going to do or let you do. Maybe some kind of retro-fittable protocol based on light signals would help...

      1. trashbat

        Re: Everyone is an expert...

        By the way, the AA reckoned my 2005 car has a stopping distance of 26m at 50 mph, so hello twenty metres of Volvo parts. I'll be damned if I could even manage that though.

  16. Alfred

    All these questions about following the wrong lorry

    Chaps, the idea isn't that you follow J. Random lorry. It's that you follow the right vehicle. The vehicle that's there to be followed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All these questions about following the wrong lorry

      It's called zen navigation: you find someone who looks like they know where they're going and follow them. You might not end up where you wanted to be, but it is almost always somewhere interesting.

    2. John Sturdy
      Happy

      Re: All these questions about following the wrong lorry

      "The vehicle that's there to be followed."? I'd been wondering what the car train would do if it spots one of those airport cars with a big "FOLLOW ME" sign on top!

  17. Graham Bartlett

    Hey Eric!

    Nice one!

    (We worked together for a bit, but he's a lot smarter than me. Which is why he's running self-driving car studies, and I'm surfing El Reg...)

  18. Steve 13
    Facepalm

    luddites

    Presumably had el Reg existed when cruise control was being developed all the previous posters would have been there declaring why it would never work.

    Most of the 'problems' don't appear to be even relevant, the wifi connection isn't neccessary to measure the distance to the vehicle with radar or laser, the gap could presumably be made much smaller if desired and auto emergency breaking systems already exist.

    The system is specifically designed for following another vehicle whilst on the motorway, so traffic lights aren't a problem, nor is arriving at the sainsbury's depot. Presumably the wifi does have a use in making sure that you are following a vehicle in the right direction and giving you plenty of warning if you need to stop following it (ie for your exit or because it is exiting).

    The test done here might be at relatively low speed, but it's more fuel efficient like that, and frankly if I can get in the car and then go back to sleep whilst it drives me the majority of the way to work then I won't mind it being slightly slower and saving me money.

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: luddites

      not really, I have adaptive cruise control and it works quite well, just not at 6m separation.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here's a thought...

    To all those posing strawman objections -

    Perhaps a sensible application of this is that your car 'discovers' a car in front that is being driven but has this 'follow me' tech, and digitally couples itself to that car like a train, so you can kick back and relax for a while. Then, when your sat nav tells you it's time to take a different route to that of the car you're following, you take hold of the wheel and resume control...

    Just a thought. I'd be quite happy with that sort of 'ultimate cruise control' on the motorway...

    1. Lockwood

      Re: Here's a thought...

      The promo picture shows you can kick back and READ AT THE WHEEL.

      I fail to see where this is A Good Thing (TM)

    2. Maliciously Crafted Packet

      Re: Here's a thought...

      Unless the driver in front thinks he's The Stig then you'd get a bit more of a ride than you bargained for.

      Seriously though I think the Google driverless tech is the way to go. I believe its already been licensed for road use in Nevada with California to follow if the current road test trials workout.

      On another note I wonder how this will impact on the insurance industry once the safety issues have been addressed? Fully autonomous cars with an almost zero accident rate could be here sooner than we think. As an autonomous drone there will be security worries to be reckoned with too.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Here's a thought...

        The strategic deployment of some appropriate punctuation in your first sentence would make it read as you intended. As it is, it says precisely the opposite.

  20. ian 22
    Happy

    Adjust for national temperament

    And here I was thinking these were Spanish designed auto Autos. Following a leader is what I'd expect of German designs, Italian designs much less so.

  21. Mike Bunyan

    All Greek taxi drivers are mine

    .. and now for a realistic test: Athens

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    god, you lot are depressing

    SO MANY comments on this story about "Oh well it's all fine until this or that or the other happens, and what about this and how will it handle that and and and....".

    Look - people are actually DOING THIS. This isn't some pie-in-the-sky concept animation - this actually happened. Real people are spending real money on developing the real version of stuff we've been watching in sci-fi movies for decades. I'd have thought people on this site would be far more positive about this sort of thing, instead most of you are just "It'll never work, and get off my lawn".

    Face it - computers CANNOT be any worse at driving than humans. At least a computer won't be driving along trying to put on make-up with one hand and holding a hot Starbucks* in the other.

    I say "Well done, chaps" to the Volvo/Sartre team. Well done indeed. As for the rest of you - you make Scrooge look good.

    *Not that kind of hot Starbuck, Galactica fanboy.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You lot obviously missed the bit in the article whereby it said Volvo had tested it when it broke.....

    "the lead vehicle tells each car when to accelerate, ****break**** and turn, all in real-world traffic conditions"

    ;-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I hope it doesn't break

      Yes, Tony Smith is really that thick that he doesn't know what the things that stop a car are called.

      1. The Serpent

        Re: I hope it doesn't break

        He knows what they are called but he can't spell the word

        1. Maty

          Re: I hope it doesn't break

          Perhaps the spelling is completely accurate. In which case, you have been warned.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why not Italy?

    Their two lane black-tops are perfect for this sort of thing.

    Oh silly me. You have not considered the fact that many Italian men drive on public roads as if they are on the racetrack. Everyone and I mean everyone has to get out of their way. LH Indicator on away they go. I've even seen them flash a Polic Car near Genoa.

    I'll also second the post about the 6m gap being too big. make it 6cm and it might be just about large enough to stop a White Van, Audi 'reps car' or BMW'junior manager' from pulling into it.

    Just look at the vehicle spacing on the M3 on a Monday morning.

    1. Alfred

      Re: Why not Italy?

      "Just look at the vehicle spacing on the M3 on a Monday morning."

      At 50mph, a lot more than 6m. That's not much more than a single car length, or in terms of time taken to travel that distance, less than one fifth of a second.

      1. JetSetJim Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Why not Italy?

        Ah - but on a Monday morning he's probably thinking about in the traffic jam to get onto the M25 - everyone has stopped, so the distance between cars is very small

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Great tech...but...

    I'm not going to say but what happens if...'cos at some point in the future these will kill a pedestrian (just like a normal car does). BUT....who is liable?

    the 'driver', the programmer? If it is the driver then they need to be alert to the same level as if they are driving (and NOT reading maps). If it is the programmer then they will add a caveat 'warning, this system is not to be used unattended, etc' and so we revert back to having an 'attentive' driver.

    It's not the 'cruise control' equivalent I'm worried about - it's the driverless vehicles that concern me.

    the first death will make for an interesting court case methinks.

    1. fandom

      Re: Great tech...but...

      Most likely the pedestrian. And the great thing is that you will have the video evidence to prove it.

      Think of it as evolution in action

  26. David Pollard
    IT Angle

    Sales prospects are improving

    No one seems to have realised that this is nothing much to do with technology. It's a cunning promotion.

    What with failing economies and it being that time of year again, vehicle sales are depressingly low. But, as a quick check with your favourite search engine will show, this story has provided Volvo with a good deal of coverage. It even has 50+ comments on El Reg within a couple of hours.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    new services...

    just wait and see companies running a fleet of "towing" vehicles which you can hook up to, all offering "up to 900% savings on fuel consumption", and you, having to sign an agreement that you don't break off and switch to another "provider" during your trip. And rogue providers, and spoofing, etc. etc.Aren't we resourceful :(

  28. The Baron
    Unhappy

    Acronyms

    "Project Sartre (Safe Road Trains for the Environment)"

    No no, Safe Road Trains For The Environment would be Project SRTFTE. I can just about cope with people making up their project's name by thinking of a cool acronym first, but this goes too far.

    Yours sincerely,

    TB

    President,

    SCREWYOU

    (SoCiety for the Re-Education of people Who create acronYms or initialisms withOut sufficient reference to the actUal words involved)

    1. Kristian Walsh

      Re: Acronyms

      EU project naming always reminded me of this strip:

      Dilbert, 1993-06-23

      I once worked on some of these proposals, and almost got away with suggesting "Parallel Heterogeneous Local Extension Grouping Mechanisms" for a project package, but "Partial Look-Aside Caching Engine for Network Transport Adaptation" had a nice ring to it :)

  29. Andy Miller

    Break time !

    It tells them when to break? Can it tell them how to break? That would be useful if the manufacturer has an over stock of a particular spare part I guess, but doesn't sound good for the owner.

    Does it also control braking ?

  30. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Self drive is only a small step onwards

    From adaptive cruise control. I've had that in my car for a decade and like it a lot - it's a big destresser on the M25 in heavy traffic.

    Once assumes if the car is self driving and following other self driving vehicles, it's using a satnav for directions and coordination of diverging/converging tracks is an exercise for the computers.

    BTW: It's illegal for lorries to be in the fast lane on motorways. Why not film the bastards and call the cops? It'd give them something useful to do.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Fast Lane"

      There is no lane of a motorway that has any concept of speed associated with it.

      It is not permitted for vehicles with trailers or with a maximum weight exceeding 7.5 tonnes to be in the rightmost lane of a motorway with three lanes or more.

      I think that's what you meant to say.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Fast Lane"

        I was about to make a smart-assed comment about how could such a vehicle could get to the middle/left lane without passing through the right lane....and then I realized that you drive on the other side of the road.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Fast Lane" AC 15:37

        >rightmost lane of a motorway with three lanes or more

        The correct term is offside lane, OTH

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Fast Lane" AC 15:37

          Offside lane would be an acceptable term and is infinitely better than "fast lane" but that is not the wording used in the highway code.

          http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Highwaycode/DG_069862

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Fast Lane" AC 15:37

            Probably because the highway code has been dumbed down.

            I understand many traffic police officers use lane 1, 2 and 3

            Personally, frequently having to drive on different sides, I find it more convenient when relating traffic horror stories to use offside/nearside to avoid having to turn things round in my head and it's easier for the listener too. Also if this terminology had been used we wouldn't be having this discussion as everything would have been clear from the beginning.

  31. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Rubbernecker traffic jams

    Easily fixed - higher median barriers, along with tarps around crash scenes.

    It works wonders at preventing ghouls stopping traffic - and twats trying to cross the motorway.

    Common practice in some areas. less so in others.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rubbernecker traffic jams

      Doesn't stop the twats in Atlanta. Two years ago, I watched an idiot jump down onto I-75, run across 5 lanes of traffic and vault over the 6ft high center divider. The cop chasing him didn't bother make the drop onto the road.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alright it's a bit more clever but Honda have had a safety system that allows the CR-V to be set in auto-mode and correct it's speed and distance from the car in front, all you have to do is steer it, they put that in the CR-V 5 years ago!

  33. QuinnDexter

    Motorway driving

    I see this as a good thing, but a few years too late. Perhaps as an augmentation of the almost driverless cars that Google have been working on. "Want to pay £500 to save fuel, then this patch will give you the ability to be part of a road train"

    The only problem is the cars would communicate with one another to find out who is going where and thus build the most efficient road trains, which would mean agreeing to pass your SatNav data over to Google, who will then bombard your HUD with Googletastic marketing about shops near your destination.

    Perhaps that's an advertising stream I could patent. Movies or TV programmes from HUDFlix(TM) beamed to your HUD, interspersed with marketing directed at your end desitination...

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Motorway driving

      Sounds like a job for RoADBlock...

    2. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: Motorway driving

      Why do you need to find someone going closest to where you are going? You only need to follow someone for as long as your route matches - if they pull off the motorway before you want to, you just latch on to the nearest available car still on the motorway. No need to send your route data anywhere, as long as you are "reasonably attentive" (which will surely be a requirement of this system).

  34. Richard Scratcher
    Go

    Let's get those Volvos into a circle.

    I shouldn't be too difficult to get a computer to manage a rolling road train. All you'd need is a simple set of subroutines to keep those Dodges moving. e.g.

    headEmUp(), moveEmOn(), holdEmUp(), cutEmIn(), driveEmOut(), countEmOut(), countEmIn()

  35. Ian 5
    Headmaster

    arggh

    God damn it... "break" vs "brake".

    How often are these vehicles expected to break, as opposed to the frequency of their braking.

    Should I "loose" or lose control over this?!

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad practice

    I was always told that you should never tailgate.

    Also this sort of packet driving whilst being the most efficient is also most likely to end in fatalities in the event of an acident.

    1. QuinnDexter
      Terminator

      Re: Bad practice

      ...if the cars remain under the control of humans. And that's the point. The interface will be a computer aided by cameras and IR and radars and other gadgets, not a person on the phone, changing a radio and lighting a cig. Dunno if you'd noticed but technology generally does things quicker than people

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down

        Re: Bad practice

        If the car in front hits an obstacle that pulls in front of it for example let's see how fast the ones behind react.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Bad practice (Chris W)

          Hopefully fast enough and hard enough to prevent the driver of said intruding car from ever driving again (or pedestrian from ever jaywalking again.)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Bad practice (theodore)

            So you want the technology to react fast enough to be able to run into the obstacle? What are you taking? Or if you should be taking something and have stopped then please, start taking it again.

            The "intruding car" could be anything. Trees have been known to fall down, people have been known to throw things from bridges, doddery old codgers and people following satnav instructions have been known to drive the wrong way down a motorway.

            No matter how fast the technology reacts in the event of an accident, I'll repeat that bit because it seems QuinnDexter didn't understand the first time around, the brakes will not be sufficient to prevent a serious pile up.

        2. JetSetJim Silver badge

          Re: Bad practice

          Standard driving "thinking time" is a reaction time of between 1.0 and 1.5 seconds. I suspect silicon works faster than that.

          Perhaps, just perhaps, Volvo put some thought into it when they came up with a figure of 6m for a gap between cars. Or perhaps they just plucked that figure out of the air.

          At 80kph, the human "thinking time" equates to travel of 20-30m. With a figure of 6m, they've got a luxurious quarter of a second plus for the silicon to react appropriately. Let's take the arbitrary scenario of a strange catastrophe affecting the road ahead, and the lead vehicle computer/driver feels the need to go for an emergency stop - i.e. hammer the breaks[sic] as hard as they can, with ABS ensuring the most rapid stop possible. To simplify things, assume all vehicles have the same stopping distance at this speed and ignore the fact that some ridiculous cars can stop twice as quickly (if not quicker) as others.

          Assuming no inter-vehicle communication, the following cars need to react to the now-rapidly-closing gap. Take the assumption that it takes 0.1s for a car to notice that a car in front has begun to brake at the maximum braking rate and at that point it does the same thing. Also add the assumption that deceleration is linear, then the gap will close to around 3.8m.

          Increase the car's reaction time to 0.2s and the gap will close to 1m55. 0.27s reaction time is when cars will start to nudge eachother. Seems quite a lot of time for the computer to make such a decision as in that time the car in front will have decelerated by 1.85m/s.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Bad practice @JetSetJim

            It makes no difference how fast silicon reacts if the car in front has an accident the mechanical brakes will not have enough distance to stop in time to avoid a further crash. Accidents do not happen in a nice linear time frame as you seem to think.

            1. QuinnDexter

              Re: Bad practice @ChrisW

              But how is a human better than a computer in avoiding these? Or to put it another way, how can you think that a computer taking control would not be. Better? A lot of cars now include this braking tech, ignoring the human interface when the computers notice something amiss, as computers react faster. Computers react faster. The people in the original shunt might be damaged, following car less likely. What part of that do you miss?

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The siren chasers are a twitter with glee

    There are billions of Euros to be made from lawsuits when the car drives itself into someone else or the driver fails to respond when someone is headed toward smashing them to bits.

    1. Ian 55

      Re: The siren chasers are a twitter with glee

      Absolutely. Sue the 'driver', the lead vehicle, the programmers, the person who approved it...

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Best way to improve Volvo safety?

    Remove the drivers? Nice advertising Volvo.

  39. Danny 14 Silver badge

    variable speed limit

    Thats one hell of a lot of tickets if you hit a 40mph variable speed limit whilst you are doing 56 (with a chain of volvos behind you).

    1. Alfred

      Re: variable speed limit

      You're right. There is absolutely NO WAY that the people building this thought of that.

  40. This post has been deleted by its author

  41. Winkypop Silver badge
    Stop

    Volvos you say

    Do you still need to wear a hat?

    1. Thorne

      Re: Volvos you say

      The car is driving so it needs the hat

  42. nijam

    Well, Volvo drivers are already amongst the most inattentive on the road, so there's not much change, in fact.

  43. BobaFett
    Paris Hilton

    Sexist?

    One has to wonder how the decision was made to feature a female rather than a male reading a newspaper in the driving seat?

  44. cmaurand
    Linux

    I don't think I'd want to spend my time

    following a lorry down the highway. It's speed is too inconsistent which reduces fuel efficiency, and they're too slow.

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