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Follow the leader: SARTRE road train technology successfully demonstrated

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January 17, 2011

SARTRE road train project successfully demonstrated in real world tests (Image: Volvo)

SARTRE road train project successfully demonstrated in real world tests (Image: Volvo)

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Reading the morning paper while behind the wheel of your car might sound like surefire recipe for disaster, but in the not-too-distant future it might just become a safer and more economical option than actually doing the driving yourself. That's the theory behind SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project – a synthesis of personal and public transport that will allow cars to be daisy-chained and automatically controlled by a lead vehicle in a process dubbed "platooning." The project has now made the leap from simulator to real roads in the first successful demonstration of the technology at the Volvo Proving Ground near Gothenburg, Sweden.

"This is a major milestone for this important European research programme," says Tom Robinson, SARTRE project coordinator, of Ricardo UK Ltd. "Platooning offers the prospect of improved road safety, better road space utilization, improved driver comfort on long journeys and reduced fuel consumption and hence CO2 emissions. With the combined skills of its participating companies, SARTRE is making tangible progress towards the realisation of safe and effective road train technology".

Vehicles linked in a platoon are guided by a professional driver in a lead vehicle with each car constantly monitoring the distance, speed and direction relative to the car in front and automatically making adjustments to keep the road-train on track – in other words, you sit back and relax while the brakes, accelerator and steering wheel are automatically operated. Vehicles can also leave the platoon at any time.

SARTRE road train project (Image: Volvo)

The recent tests conducted in Sweden successfully demonstrated a single car following a lead vehicle (Volvo's automated Safety Truck) around the country road test track.

The key to the success of the approach clearly hinges on the lead driver.

“A professional, well-trained driver leading the road train is an important factor to ensure safety in the project,” says Erik Nordin at Volvo Technology.

To support the lead driver, technology such as driver alerts, forward collision warning, ESP (Electronic Stability Program) and Adaptive Cruise Control are integrated in the lead vehicle and Volvo is working on further enhancements to this part of the system.

According to the SARTRE release, the "technology development is well underway and could most likely go into production in a few years time."

If the system is widely implemented, the researchers believe that the removal of the human factor will reduce accidents caused by driver distraction, improve fuel economy and reduce emissions by up to 20 percent and help ease traffic congestion.

Public acceptance of the idea, along with the need for changes in government legislation are likely to be bigger stumbling blocks than the technology itself.

The SARTRE project is part-funded by the European Commission and led by Ricardo UK Ltd in collaboration with Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia of Spain, Institut für Kraftfahrwesen Aachen (IKA) of Germany, and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, Volvo Car Corporation and Volvo Technology of Sweden.

About the Author
Noel McKeegan After a misspent youth at law school, Noel began to dabble in tech research, writing and things with wheels that go fast. This bus dropped him at the door of a freshly sprouted Gizmag.com in 2002. He has been Gizmag's Editor-in-Chief since 2007.   All articles by Noel McKeegan
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5 Comments

Long over-due. The "slinky" effect of stop and go traffic is responsible for 2x road congestion and thousands of potential accidents; resulting from inattentive drivers, the overly cautious and the frustrated driver.

Muraculous
18th January, 2011 @ 06:54 am PST

I am sure it will work but I do not like the safety issues, should something go wrong.

Adrian Akau
18th January, 2011 @ 03:34 pm PST

Why is this slow moving druck used as a leading car? Did they also make a test what will happen when there is something on the road that make the leading car driver make an emergency stop?

Kris Lee
19th January, 2011 @ 03:05 am PST

I'm sure waiting for this to happen and the prime safetyissue I can see is about is the lead-driver wether he/she takes the job seriously or is fiddling with a cellphone or similar distractions and secondly that the system is resilent to hacking. It would surely be a "bordering to terrorism prank" if someone could intercept communication between vehicles and make them all brake or turn left or someting similar.

Otherwise I have a solid confidence in the technology to be able to follow the vehicle it has been locked on to.

Conny Söre
19th January, 2011 @ 05:06 am PST

More than 10 years ago there was a demonstration of this technology in San Diego. Its called Intelligent Community Vehicle System or ICVS.

Justin Scheller
19th January, 2011 @ 07:25 am PST
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