SARTRE multi-vehicle road train project enters implementation phase


December 13, 2010

The SARTRE project aims to automate slipstreaming of multiple vehicles on the highway

The SARTRE project aims to automate slipstreaming of multiple vehicles on the highway

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The European SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project, which is developing technology to automate slipstreaming of multiple vehicles on highways, is now a year into its three-year program. The first year has been spent ironing out the concept and investigating the requirements of a prototype system, as well as how people will react to using it. Now the program is set to enter the implementation phase, starting with the testing of a single lead and following vehicle.

The benefits of slipstreaming or drafting in reducing fuel consumption (and therefore CO2 emissions) are well known and the technique is already widely used in bike and car racing. The team says exploiting the resultant lower air drag would allow vehicles to achieve energy savings in the region of 20 percent. But that’s only one of the benefits that the project hopes to bring to drivers.

The SARTRE team says a system that enables vehicles to automatically follow a lead vehicle driven by a trained driver would also reduce accidents, improve traffic flow and free drivers from the monotonous task of highway driving, thereby allowing them to catch up on some reading, watch a movie or get some work done on a laptop. When they are approaching their destination, the driver takes control of their vehicle and leaves the convoy, with the remaining vehicles closing the gap as the road-train continues on its way.

The technology could also be used in that most frustrating of low speed situations – the traffic jam – to allow vehicles to follow the vehicle in front until the congestion clears.

With the project aiming to carry out the first development tests of a single lead and following vehicle before the end of 2010, the installation of the necessary hardware and software into the two vehicles has already commenced. This includes a navigation system, a transmitter/receiver system that communicates with the lead vehicle and technology that can take control of braking, acceleration and steering. Since the systems are built into the cars, no need to add any additional infrastructure to existing roads.

Additionally, as shown in a short documentary film produced by SARTRE (below), the technology has been tested in a road train simulator. One of the goals of the simulator tests has been to see how people react to tailgating a car traveling at speeds of 90 km/h (56 mph) without actually controlling the car. While some people were found to completely trust the system, others are understandably a little more wary.

The SARTRE project aims to carry out the first single lead and single following vehicle tests before the end of December, 2010, with the goal of demonstrating a five-vehicle road train that can handle interactions with other road users to be carried out in 2011 and early 2012. However, the team admits that, even if all the technology required for the system is validated, it will probably take ten years or more before such rolling road trains become a reality on our highways.

Via Jalopnik

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

I think it would be best to manufacture vehicles with a low Cd rather than to depend on a road train to reduce Cd citing safety issues. More cars in a train increases the probability that something could go wrong, mechanically or otherwise. Control systems might also fail.

Adrian Akau

If these travel in the slow lane, what happens in rush hour traffic when someone from another lane wants to move over for an exit? Will they have to wait until the entire train passes in order to merge to the right?


This is actually a VERY good idea. The gaps between the vehicles should be about a meter, and all the acceleration and braking MUST be linked to the lead vehicle. In straight highway running - it\'s a 80% reduction in fuel consumption straight away.

Mr Stiffy

Car transporters could be used to carry 8 to 10 vehicles. You would book your start and destination points, and of course your car engine would not be running. This would certainly cut down on emissions, but a suitable fare structure would need to be organised. This idea could work.


I have just watched the video, and notice it is funded by the European Commission. It certainly looks like a case of job creation, and to my mind an enormous waste of money and time. I think in England, a lot of people drive like this anyway! Especially on the M25 motorway. Sometimes you can even get up to 35 miles an hour if you are lucky!


I am assuming that the train will be doing the speed limit or below (if weather requires it). Many driver\'s won\'t like this for that reason.


I don\'t get where the savings in fuel and the reduction in emissions comes from. Doesn\'t the drag induced by the trailing cars degrade the performance of the lead vehicle?

Facebook User

That`s sounds nice!!!!

Facebook User

ForFreedom: Actually, it\'s what\'s called drafting in the NASCAR world. Using an object in front of you in this way deflects the wind and also creates a low pressure area directly behind the car in front of you.

Brian Foster
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