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SARTRE project presents exciting new road transport scheme

The EU-funded 'SARTRE' project is developing and testing new technologies to enable vehicles to travel together safely in 'road trains' on unmodified public motorways.

Motorway traffic © Peter Gutierrez
SARTRE tackles motorway traffic
© Peter Gutierrez

" SARTREexternal link brings together a unique mix of technologies, skills and expertise from European industry and academia, with the aim of developing safe and environmentally efficient road trains,” explains Tom Robinson, SARTRE project coordinator of Ricardo UK Ltd. “By working at vehicle level, SARTRE aims to realise some potentially very significant safety and environmental benefits without having to invest in changes to road infrastructure."

Robinson says the project's ultimate aim is to encourage a step change in personal transport usage. Under this innovative scheme, a professional driver in a leading vehicle will take responsibility for a 'platoon'. Following vehicles will operate in a semi-autonomous control mode, allowing their drivers to do other things such as operate phones, read books, eat or watch movies.

The future, now

“Many people feel this sounds like Utopia," admits Erik Coelingh, technical director of Active Safety Functions at Volvo Cars. "However, this type of autonomous driving doesn’t require any hocus-pocus technology, and no investment in infrastructure." Instead, he explains, the emphasis is on adapting existing technologies.

Each platoon will have a lead vehicle that drives completely normally. The driver of the lead vehicle would ideally be highly experienced and thoroughly familiar with the route. This lead vehicle could be a taxi, a bus or a truck. A platoon will consist of six to eight following vehicles. A driver in a following vehicle approaching his destination takes over control of his vehicle and leaves the convoy by exiting off to the side. Other vehicles in the platoon close the gap and continue on their way.

Crucially, the project will include a comprehensive testing programme to meet high safety demands.

SARTRE project partners say concrete benefits are to include:

  • Increased safety; following drivers in the convoy can get on with other business while on the road, for instance when driving to or from work.
  • Reduced environmental impact – lower fuel consumption compared with cars being driven individually; because they are close to each other, air drag is significantly lower. Energy savings is expected to be around 20%.
  • More efficient use of road capacity.

Sooner than you think

SARTRE video link © SARTRE project
Watch the SARTRE 'Film clip'external link
© SARTRE project

The first cars to be equipped with the new SARTRE system could appear on test tracks as early as 2011. The vehicles will be fitted out with a navigation system and a transmitter/receiver unit that communicates with a lead vehicle.

Key initial tasks for the project include analysis of platooning strategies and human behaviour, and definition of system components and modules and how they are connected on each vehicle. As the system will be completely contained within the cars, there will be no need to modify existing road network infrastructure.

The SARTRE project ('Safe Road Trains for the Environment'), is supported under the European Commission's Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7). Other partners include Spain's Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia, Germany's Institut für Kraftfahrwesen Aachen, and Volvo's SP Technical Research Institute in Sweden.