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EU SARTRE road platooning project moving to testing phase; firsts tests of two-vehicle train by end of year

Earlier work by the PATH project found all vehicle geometries average a decrease in fuel consumption with platooning. Credit: PATH report. Click to enlarge.

The EU SARTRE project (Safe Road Trains for the Environment, earlier post)—which aims to develop, test and validate technology for vehicles that can drive themselves in long road trains on highways—is currently aiming to carry out the first development tests of a single lead and following vehicle before the end of 2010. This first iteration of the SARTRE architecture will involve installation of the necessary hardware into the two vehicles, implementation of vehicle- to-vehicle communications, incorporation and integration of sensors, and low-level actuator and lateral and longitudinal control of the following vehicle.

Subsequent phases of the work to be carried out in 2011 and early 2012 will see the concept demonstrated on a five-vehicle road train with strategies handling interaction with other road users.

Now a year into its three-year program of work, the SARTRE project aims to develop and demonstrate road train technologies that will enable improvements in traffic flow and faster journey times, offering greater comfort to drivers, reducing accidents and improving fuel consumption, hence lowering CO2 emissions. Most of the first year has been taken up with the concept phase, which has involved the seven partner consortium investigating the basic principles of a feasible platooning system.

Issues investigated have included usage cases, human factors and behaviors associated with platooning, core system parameters, and specification of prototype architecture and applications. In addition to providing some useful results in its own right, this essential groundwork has enabled the team to move on to the start of the implementation phase which will see the start of vehicle testing.

SARTRE is led by Ricardo UK Ltd and comprises a collaboration between the following additional participating companies: Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia of Spain; Institut für Kraftfahrwesen Aachen (ika) of Germany; SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden; and Volvo Car Corporation and Volvo Technology of Sweden.

The project is addressing the three cornerstone transportation issues of environment, safety and congestion while at the same time encouraging driver acceptance through the prospect of increased “driver comfort”. The objectives of SARTRE may be summarized as:

  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.

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% 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. The SARTRE project formally started in September 2009.

The SARTRE project recently released an 8-minute documentary film describing the first year’s work of this multi-partner research initiative. In addition to releasing the documentary film, the partners have also published three technical papers, covering specific details of the work of the concept phase, at the ITS World Congress held in October at Busan, Korea.

SARTRE video.

These papers—available on the SARTRE web site along with the video—have respectively covered the subjects of the challenges of platooning on public highways, an overview of the approach to the development of platooning being taken by the SARTRE project, and the human factors challenges of implementing such a dual-mode transportation system.

(A hat-tip to Jeremy!)




I have been for ranging cruise control for almost a decade. It would save fuel and lives, but some things change slowly.


So you can save 27% fuel by grouping 4+ cars 1M apart.
It will take a lot of work to make that safe.
The problem is how to make it fail safe - it should be easy enough to make it work while all the systems are working, but to make it work when they start failing will be the challenge.
What if someone's radar fails while they are sleeping ?
And so on, lots of failure modes that will make the system very complex and expensive.
Planes have triple redundancy and achieve good safety using this and years of pilot training - cars won't be able to afford that much gear.
On the other hand, cars will have production volume on their side - they sell 10's of millions of cars, vs thousands of the most popular planes.
Projects like this and the G-car will pioneer automated driving over the next 10-20 years, and it will be an exciting development to watch.


Sounds good.

Obviously they realize the possible problems that must be worked out - such as fewer, but maybe bigger, highway accidents.


One thing about platooning cars is that the smaller separations actually make failures safer. Yeah I know that SOUNDS wrong but it's the speed "differential" that's the killer in an accident. With a small enough separation the car who's cruise control fails doesn't have time to gain or lose a lot of speed before it hits the other car's bumper. They will hit, of course, and there will be damage, but if the system has fail-safes in place this would trigger all the other cars to sandwich the out-of-control car and bring it to a stop.


The control systems required for platooning cars will be inherently safer. Platoons will have to communicate and accelerate and brake as a unit, so there will be no problems with "braking waves" as drivers see brake lights late and over-react. If a car loses its range measurement to the next car or its communications, it will have to automatically slow down and revert to manual control.


Interesting graph. A result I probably would not have guessed. The reduction in fuel consumption is strongest between 0 and 1 meter separation distance. I would have expected it to be a function of spacing but would have thought by the time you were down to the 1 meter range there would be diminishing returns as you would easily be within the separation zone of the vehicle in front of you.

The curve also shows the highest variability to vehicle shape at close distances which again seems counter intuitive to me.

Oh well. That's why they ran the test. Air is a very fickle fluid.

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