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EU SARTRE Project Targets Autonomous Road Trains; Enhanced Safety and Lower Fuel Consumption

An autonomous road train as envisioned by SARTRE. Click to enlarge.

The new EU project SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project will develop and test technology for vehicles that can drive themselves in long road trains on motorways. This technology has the potential to improve traffic flow and journey times, offer greater comfort to drivers, reduce accidents, and improve fuel consumption and hence lower CO2 emissions. The energy saving resulting from such a road train is expected to be in the region of 20%, depending upon vehicle spacing and geometry.

Part-funded by the European Commission under the Framework 7 program, SARTRE will be led by Ricardo UK Ltd and will be a collaboration between 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.

The SARTRE project brings together a unique mix of technologies, skills and expertise from European industry and academia, with the aim of encouraging the development of safe and environmentally effective road trains. By developing and implementing the technology at a vehicle level, SARTRE aims to realize the potentially very significant safety and environmental benefits of road trains without the need to invest in changes to road infrastructure.

—Tom Robinson, Ricardo UK, SARTRE project coordinator

SARTRE aims to encourage a step change in personal transport usage through the development of safe environmental road trains (platoons). Systems will be developed in prototype form that will facilitate the safe adoption of road trains on un-modified public highways with full interaction with non-platoon vehicles. The SARTRE project formally started in September 2009 and will run for a total of three years. Specific objectives of the project are:

  1. To define a set of acceptable platooning strategies that will allow road trains to operate on public highways without changes to the road and roadside infrastructure.

  2. To enhance, develop and integrate technologies for a prototype platooning system such that the defined strategies can be assessed under real world scenarios.

  3. To demonstrate how the use of platoons can lead to environmental, safety and congestion improvements.

  4. To illustrate how a new business model can be used to encourage the use of platoons with benefits to both lead vehicle operators and to platoon subscribers.

The basic concept is that each road train or platoon will have a lead vehicle that drives exactly as normal, with full control of all the various functions. This lead vehicle is driven by an experienced driver who is thoroughly familiar with the route. For instance, the lead may be taken by a taxi, a bus or a truck. Each such road train will consist of six to eight vehicles.

As the participants meet, each vehicle’s navigation system is used to join the convoy, where the autonomous driving program then takes over. A driver approaching his destination takes over control of his own vehicle, leaves the convoy by exiting off to the side and then continues on his own to his destination. The other vehicles in the road train close the gap and continue on their way until the convoy splits up.

The first test cars equipped with this technology will roll on test tracks as early as 2011. The vehicles will be equipped with a navigation system and a transmitter/receiver unit that communicates with a lead vehicle. Since the system is built into the cars, there is no need to extend the infrastructure along the existing road network.

I do appreciate that many people feel this sounds like Utopia. However, this type of autonomous driving actually doesn’t require any hocus-pocus technology, and no investment in infrastructure. Instead, the emphasis is on development and on adapting technology that is already in existence. In addition, we must carry out comprehensive testing to verify our high demands on safety.

—Erik Coelingh, technical director of Active Safety Functions at Volvo Cars

If successful, the benefits from SARTRE are expected to be significant. The estimated fuel consumption saving for high speed highway operation of road trains is in the region of 20 percent depending on vehicle spacing and geometry. Safety benefits will arise from the reduction of accidents caused by driver action and driver fatigue. The utilization of existing road capacity will also be increased with a potential consequential reduction in journey times. For users of the technology, the practical attractions of a smoother, more predicable and lower cost journey which offers the opportunity of additional free time, will be considerable.

Researchers see road trains primarily as a major benefit to commuters who cover long distances by motorway every day, but they will also be of potential benefit to trucks, buses, coaches vans and other commercial vehicle types.



For instance, the lead may be taken by a taxi,...

Given the driving style of the average cabbie...

...or a truck

Given the speed of the average truck....

I think this is only going to take off with dedicated lead drivers.


I agree with Anne. My metro bus driver is supposed to be experienced and "professional." Yeah - experienced in exceeding the speed limit by 27% every day, tailgating, talking and texting on the cell phone, yaking with the passengers. Taxi and truck drivers? Really stupid!

Why don't these companies make a car that knows who is driving, with a face-recognizing camera, and shut off the cell phone. Or make a car that can't speed or tailgate? Or recognize that the driver is drunk, putting on makeup, or falling asleep? These greedy car companies should be selling safety instead of finding ways to get more cars on the road.


Maybe each lead dog driver would be rated by the sheep drivers and the system would keep a running score to include ratings plus avg MPH and %of speed limit, etc.

Subscribers would choose to join depending on the lead dogs score and would contribute a small fee "directly" to the lead dog.

Since sheep can drop out at any time, problems with bad lead dogs would be minimized and there would be low risk of unwillingly joining a French truck road block.


I think the problem is what do you do when the sheep fall asleep and don't wake up when they have to leave the train.

Can you assume they will wake up if a buzzer sounds ?
How much warning would you give them - 1 minute - 5 minutes ?

The "head" driver could be more or less anyone who is licensed to drive on a motorway at present. If his driving was erratic, people could leave the train for "personal" reasons (so I agree with TT here).

If you try to specify someone who has taken an advanced driving course, you reduce the applicability of the system.

The idea of rebating the head driver is reasonable but could be hacked, perhaps you would have an honor system where you just say "so and so" was a good driver.

Nonetheless there are loads of challenges here and it is a clear point on the way to a driverless car, and a nice little research project.


Sorry, but you guys are all missing the point. This requires an autopilot system, lead or tail makes no difference except the lead car burns a bit more fuel, but still saves.

Roger Pham

Agree with everyone. This sounds unrealistic. There is no need for everyone to be in separate vehicles. One vehicle like a van can carry 10 passengers and consumes 1/8th the gasoline and 1/10th the roadway space. Computerized scheduling service for pickup and drop-off like vanpooling can make for efficient routing, with door-to-door pickup and drop-off, like UPS or FedEx have done quite efficiently.


"professional driver"
enough already.

The pilot who took his plane down in the Hudson new his stuff.Not sure I would like to be folowing that act.


"Why don't these companies make a car that knows who is driving, with a face-recognizing camera, and shut off the cell phone. Or make a car that can't speed or tailgate? Or recognize that the driver is drunk, putting on makeup, or falling asleep? These greedy car companies should be selling safety."

Yeah I hate machines too. See "Twelve Monkeys" with B. Willis. They got very obedient bots driving taxis. If they mouth off or drive badly, you knock their block off. it's only a machine.


In a major country where driving a large SUV is a favoured entertainment, this would not fly.

Alex Kovnat

Platooning can reduce the aerodynamic drag perceived by your car if you're sandwiched between someone ahead of you by half a car length, and someone behind you by said distance. Using 77 GHz cruise control radar and car-to-car signalling, this could be done now.

A good argument for a carbon tax on motor fuels, is that it would provide an incentive for people to use this technology.


Now, what if the leading bus had an accident? What prevents a pile up them?

And how do we really know if the lead vehicle really a professional driver?

And... a typical passenger car might not be efficient if it was driven like a bus.

Ing. A.S.Stefanes

This is a good idea, but with some very basic faults.

Having to depend on a prefessional driver is not the way to go. That means a couple of things.

Professional drivers do not make good drivers perse. Even professional drivers make mistakes and often that leads to deaths (bus drivers, trucks etc.)

What if there is not a professional driver on your route?

If you want to do this, every car in the roadtrain should be able to drive autonomously. The technology for this is already available. However. THis means having to implement a few extra actuators in every car. Steering, throttle and braking should be able to be controlled by a computer. Thus adding additional weight and complexity to the car and increasing price. Thus making the car less efficient. Kind of contradictionary.

However, with the coming of electric drive trains, be it with fuell cel, full electric, series hybrid or whatever. This could possibly become less of a hassle.

A lot af kinks to work out.

Stan Peterson

Finally! Here is the future. The genuine 21st Century version of "mass transit". It is easy to evolve to with no enormous investment in new right-of-way. It uses advances on existing technology and just builds on it.

It creates instantaneous "ad-hoc" trains, under decentralized, cooperating computer control, that let each traveler and his goods, join and leave, as he travels the portion of a route that he wishes, while making the most efficient usage of the transit right-of-way and each such instantaneously created "train" optimizes individual transit vehicles fuel economy with safe lane-packing and minimal braking and re-acceleration.

Whenever any one talks of "mass transit" today its always for the "other guy" to use; and get off the road, so I can have some room. The "other guy" should put up with the inconvenience and time wasted of going from Point A to Point A-prime,(the local station near his start), then traveling, sometimes with long out-of-the-way travel to transfer interchange points, to eventually arrive at Point B-prime, (the distant station near his destination) and then find away to shlep himself and his goods, to Point B, where he wanted to go, in the first place.

Mass transit is always envisioned as restoring some relic from the 18th century era of Transport. Any calculation of genuine efficiency shows that the energy used in moving about is at least 300% and sometimes worse than letting individual drivers drive about in the biggest gas guzzling Suburban SUVs that you can imagine. But few drivers have as inefficient a vehicle as a Suburban.

Meanwhile these heavy multi-ton mass-transit iron horses, of a bygone era, wander over the countryside, never really taking anybody where they want really to go. And doing so almost empty the majority of the time.

But their purely theoretical efficiency is theoretically calculated as if they are completely full and travel their entire route that way, beginning to end, all day, and never deviate from that pristine theoretical condition.

So these contraptions are advertised as "fuel efficient". They are no such thing. And its a pure fabrication. The route must be maintained, as if some one might want to use the service, all day and most of the night; when in fact it is usually mostly empty, most of the time but still consuming prodigious amounts of resources.

Meanwhile the individual driver even alone in his gas guzzler Suburban, only goes when its wanted, to go directly from where it is, to where its wanted, and when its wanted and no further, albeit with a poorer fuel economy for the brief time its actually traveling, but probably on a much shorter direct route. And it has no need to go dead head just to "maintain the route".


I saw a video of a car train years ago. American companies were doing this maybe 10 years ago. My question then was the same as now - how does braking work? What if the lead car is something like a Corvette, which can stop 60-0 mph in 110 feet, and the other cars in the train are cheap cars like Escorts with stopping distance about 160 feet. If the lead car needs to panic stop when a kid, deer, or vehicle crosses its path, you will have a massive pileup because the following cars are all tailgating.


I thought of a range sensor years ago to prevent accidents when the freeway slowed or came to a stop. Ford and others are doing this now, so that could be used as a slip stream method.

In Southern California, people tail gate at 70 mph like a Daytona raceway. This is not good practice, but with a range sensor and computer, the reaction times are greatly reduced.

Roger Pham

You've made a good point. However, with increasing age of population of develop countries, fewer people will be able to drive competently, and/or want to put up with the cost of car ownership and maintenance. Many people have certain handicaps that make them unsafe driver, and have no choice but to keep driving, thus endangering the public. Many people have alcohol and drug problems who should not drive, but have little choice in most suburban areas and smaller cities.

A humane and futuristic transit model can be based on the success of UPS and FedEx in bringing about low-cost door-to-door pickup and delivery service. Imagine an UPS truck with at least 10 seats in it. People can schedule trips ahead of time like a day in advance, trips to doctor's office or shopping centers etc., and approximate time for pickup. Central computers will assign vehicles and route. On-demand short-notice trips will cost more, but can be arranged via cell phone.

Account Deleted

I concur with all the concerns above regarding safety, especially the one about drivers going to sleep.

I do appreciate the effort to streamline transportation without having to make infrastructure investments, but for now, at least, I'm not persuaded this will work. If it does, fine -- I've eaten crow plenty of times before in my life!

It might work if you could assemble a group of drivers all going to the exact same place -- but how likely is that?

It will be interesting to follow this experiment.

Account Deleted

The route must be maintained, as if some one might want to use the service, all day and most of the night; when in fact it is usually mostly empty, most of the time but still consuming prodigious amounts of resources.
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Account Deleted

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