|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:
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.
To enhance, develop and integrate technologies for a prototype platooning system such that the defined strategies can be assessed under real world scenarios.
To demonstrate how the use of platoons can lead to environmental, safety and congestion improvements.
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.