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SARTRE autonomous road train project completed


September 18, 2012

Autonomous driving would allow drivers to relax on trips (Image: Volvo)

Autonomous driving would allow drivers to relax on trips (Image: Volvo)

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The SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project that first hit the road in 2011 before conducting its first public road test earlier this year has now been completed. As well as finding that semi-autonomous “follow the leader” road train technology is mature enough for practical applications in the near future, the participating partners in the project have concluded that it could be integrated on conventional highways and operate in a mixed environment with existing road users.

The SARTRE project is a sort of halfway point between conventional vehicles and autonomous vehicles. Instead of taking the human factor out of the equation altogether, similarly equipped vehicles communicate with each other to form road trains behind a lead vehicle operated by a professional driver.

Road tests saw a manually driven lead truck followed by one truck and three Volvo cars, a S60, V60 and XC60, which were driven autonomously at speeds of up to 90 km/h (56 mph), with distances between the vehicles often no greater than four meters (13 ft).

"The basic principle is that the following vehicles repeat the motion of the lead vehicle," says Erik Coelingh, Product Attribute Manager, Driver Assistance at Volvo Car Corporation. "To achieve this we have extended the camera, radar and laser technology used in present safety and support systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control, City Safety, Lane Keeping Aid, Blind Sport Information System and Park Assist Pilot."

Volvo says that it could have a system capable of operating on conventional highways with mixed traffic within ten years and that the main obstacles are legislative. But if local and national governments can be convinced to find a way to accommodate autonomous cars, the day when a cross-country road trip becomes an excuse to catch up on some reading may not be that far off.

“The road train is the best of two worlds," added Coelingh. "You can enjoy all the multi-tasking possibilities of public transportation behind the wheel of your own car."

Part-funded by the European Commission, SARTRE is a joint venture of seven European partners including Ricardo UK Ltd, Applus Idiada, Robotiker, Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen (IKA), SP Technical Research Institute, Volvo Technology and Volvo Car Corporation. Volvo is the only car manufacturer in the project.

The SARTRE project's road train technology is demonstrated in the video below.

Source: SARTRE

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

during my 75 km commute, i often come across some big trucks i know are heading to the same area as me, id love to be able to lock onto one, and then lean back and read a book instead. I can imagine teaching my gps to alert me, if it diverts from my chosen route, if i managed to choose one that goes astray :-) else i could imaging cars broadcasting their destination via bluetooth or something similar, so you can find people heading the same way and then take turns being in front. with 4 m between the cars, I can imagine that you'll also save a bit on fuel this way.


It is important not to get behind somebody with better brakes.


I don't really see this happening in the real world, especially in the US.

I'm wondering how lane changes would be handled if the lead vehicle came across someone doing way under the limit, farm machinery, car about to break down, lane closure due to an obstruction or construction. Would the entire train change lanes too? What about other cars in the lanes next to the train?

Speaking of the lead vehicle, I want to hear more about the "professional driver" leading the pack. Is this term being used to separate truck drivers from commuters in cars? Or is this someone who's job it is to lead other cars down the road? Does this mean that he runs on a schedule, like a bus or train? Who pays for him to do this? How do I get that job!

Jeff King

I have to wonder however, with this follow option, if the vehicle you follow suddenly turns, fall asleep, swerves off the road, etc, or even if they cut back into a lane when there is a space for them, but not a space for you. I think a software program that integrates a "follow the road" technique with 'safety bumper" zones to keep spacing consistent would be more practical and safe.


In a perfect world this would be great, but locking onto a total stangers car with blind faith they have properly maintianed it is just crazy.

I can foresee a new industry poping up to rival trains for passenger travel as companies set up routes between cities and provide an escort vehicle for you to lock on to for a fee. You can even work out connections with other escort vehciles on a in car itineray app. This could ensuring a well maintianed vehicle and set travel times with no baggage fees- ha ha!


Nice idea in theory, but kinda scary. I would only hope that the system could be overridden without having to deactivate it. I'm thinking about it's potential at traffic lights though.


What if something happens in front of the lead car too close for it to stop? I'd bet at least the first three cars in the train go crunch even if the second car tells all the others to emergency brake at the same time.

Gregg Eshelman

If the professional driver can control the last car independently he could use it as a blocker vehicle to clear the lane for the rest of the train to change lanes.

The problem of traffic lights is an erroneous assumption that the trains would run on routes that involve traffic lights instead of highways.

Paying for the service of the professional driver in the lead vehicle is simply a matter of paying the fare electronically (I am sure that most of the online money transfer companies would be ecstatic for the business.)

The lead vehicle must be specially configured whether it is a regularly scheduled commuter lead or a trucker trying to make a little extra profit. I would also like to be able to configure for a two car convoy capable of being driven with the second car unoccupied.


re; Gregg Eshelman

Unpleasant things happen, but the risk is no worse than if you are in a bus or driving your own car.


It's wonderful! I'm thimking that the driver can introduce the destination and even if he is in a road train and the car ahead him will blink to change direction off the route the car will keep it's traiectory...

Iosif Olimpiu

I would have liked to see the lead truck slam on the brakes or swerve or something out of the ordinary to see just how safe this system is in an emergency.


This is soooo stupid, It's bad enough we got morons on the road, now they have excuse not pay attention. If you are going to be in the driver seat, Drive the Car!! Government believes we're over populated and we got lemmings ready and willing to take themselves out along with innocent drivers....


I worked most of this out in the 70s before we had decent computers and sensors. There weren't really any problems with road trains, and since I was an analog systems guy (only game we played at the time), one of the tricks was profiling each car in the train to spot the weak link. Braking systems and pavement coefficients were the rule, but I saw no reason why participating vehicles couldn't be as close as roughly 1 foot apart. Spacing depends on speed, surrounding traffic, destination profiles, required lane changes, allowances for drivers who cause accidents, terrain profile, unanticipated catastrophic manoeuvres (ie, accidents, animals, road debris), and inclement weather. Responding to someone who needed to lane-change through the train, or vice-versa was easily done by simply separating the train momentarily and allowing the car to pass.

There was no trained lead driver. His vehicle was an ordinary "train car" and the vehicles behind are followers that his computer and their computers agreed to link. Since a destination is known, and either an optimum route or a planned route is programmed in, the computers will chose lanes, and will change lanes for the lead car if necessary. The hazard avoidance devices react hundreds of times faster than humans, and they don't panic brake or oversteer - two of the leading causes of accidents while trying to avoid an accident. They know exactly how much braking or steering is necessary.

Opting out of the train was as simple as announcing so to the system. It would separate and wait for you to leave, then close back up, similar to what would happen if you had reached your destination and the train had not.

There weren't too many flaws it it when I put it together aside from the fact that it relied on expensive aircraft systems. Now, with hybrids and full electrics, I can see adding automatic transfer cables to share-out power to someone who absolutely needs it.

I like the idea of inserting driverless cars in the train. Great help if you had to drive a second car home without another person.

Dennis Mummert
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