Road train approaching
The SARTRE project (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) has successfully completed the first test demonstrations of a multiple vehicle platoon. The test fleet included a lead truck followed by three cars driven entirely autonomously at speeds of up to 90 km/h – with no more than a 6 metres gap between the vehicles.
The SARTRE project is being driven by seven European partners and is the only one of its kind to focus on the development of technology that can be implemented on conventional highways in which platooned traffic operates in a mixed environment with other road users.
Greener and more efficient
The main advantage of road trains is that the car driver has time to do other things. Road trains promote safer transport since the vehicle platoons are led by a professional driver in e.g. a truck and inter-vehicle reaction response times are much quicker. Environmental impact is reduced since the cars follow close behind each other and benefit from the lower air drag. The energy saving is expected to be in the region of up to 20 percent. Road capacity will also be able to be utilised more efficiently.
Although the main technologies for platooning are readily available, it is important that they are optimised before application on our roads. The cars in the platoon need to stay in line and keep their distance regardless of their speed. "A challenge has been to develop reliable communication between the vehicles in the platoon. Vehicle to vehicle communication is essential to ensure safety at high speeds and short vehicle spacing“, says Carl Bergenhem, SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.
Hands free driving
Will we be able to drive across Europe hands free or overnight any time soon? The project is well underway to its final aim, which is for the entire road train to be completed in autumn 2012. By then four vehicles after one lead vehicle should be driving at 90 km/h.
However, the challenge of implementing road train technology on Europe’s highways is not solely a technical matter, the SARTRE project also includes a major study to identify what infrastructure changes will be needed for vehicle platooning to become a reality. Key future requirements identified are the need to agree a common terminology for platooning, such as criteria for defining when a vehicle becomes fully automated (as opposed to partially or even highly so), and the need to harmonize regulatory law.