Volvo Channels Its Inner French Philosopher For Autonomous Drivers

By Blake Z. Rong | May 30, 2012
"Freedom," said French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, "is what you do with what's been done to you." Who knows what he would have said about the joys of motoring without freedom, if he had staved off mortality long enough to come across the autonomous driving system developed by Volvo, and slyly named after him. SARTRE, which stands for "Safe Road Trains for the Environment," features a lead car that sets the pace and tempo of its followers. Volvo conducted a convoy of its own cars using the system, including an S60, V60 wagon, XC60 and a few of its big rigs. The lead car drove at around 50 miles per hour for 125 miles. A wireless network installed on all the cars allowed them to follow safely behind at around 15 to 50 feet. "We've focused really hard on changing as little as possible in existing systems," said Linda Wahlström, Volvo's project manager. "Everything should function without any infrastructure changes to the roads or expensive additional components in the cars. Apart from the software developed as part of the project, it is really only the wireless network installed between the cars that sets them apart from other cars available in showrooms today."
The benefits, Volvo says, are that closely-knit autonomous driving will lead to less driver fatigue, a substitute for distracted driving, and less erratic driving patterns—as well as less speeding. By removing control from those easily distracted humans, Volvo aims to improve highway safety. In addition, fuel efficiency went up by 20 percent over the entire 125-mile distance. Drivers are free to eat, get work done, or read Sartre's L'existentialisme Est Un Humanisme, 1946. This test was the first conducted on public roads, but Volvo autonomous cars have already covered 10,000 kilometers of closed-course roads to date, in order to avoid another Sartre quote coming true: "All human actions are equivalent and all are on principle doomed to failure." No word on whether Volvo will be shipping its cars from the arid heat of Norway to the frigid tundra of Nevada to give Google some competition in the red-plate department.

Source: The Motor Report