|First on-road SARTRE mini-platoon. Click to enlarge.|
The EU-financed SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project has carried out the first successful demonstration of its vehicle platooning technology at the Volvo Proving Ground close to Gothenburg, Sweden. (Earlier post.) This marks the first time the EU-financed development teams in SARTRE have tried their systems together outside the simulators.
Vehicle platooning, as envisaged by the SARTRE project, is a convoy of vehicles where a professional driver in a lead vehicle drives a line of other vehicles. Each car measures the distance, speed and direction and adjusts to the car in front. All vehicles are totally detached and can leave the procession at any time. But once in the platoon, drivers can relax and do other things while the platoon proceeds towards its long haul destination.
Platooning is designed to improve a number of things: Firstly road safety, since it minimizes the human factor that is the cause of at least 80% of the road accidents. Secondly, 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. It is also convenient for the driver because it frees up time for other matters than driving. And since the vehicles will travel in highway speed with only a few meters gap, platooning may also relieve traffic congestion.
The tests carried out included a lead vehicle and single following car. The steering wheel of the following car moves by itself as the vehicle smoothly follows the lead truck around the country road test track. The driver is able to drink coffee or read a paper, using neither hand nor foot to operate the vehicle.
The technology development is well underway and can most likely go into production in a few years time, Volvo noted. What may take substantially longer are the public acceptance and the legislation where 25 EU governments must pass similar laws.
Part-funded by the European Commission under the Framework 7 programme, SARTRE is led by Ricardo UK Ltd and comprises collaboration between the following additional participating companies: 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 objectives of SARTRE may be summarized as:
- 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 SARTRE project formally started in September 2009 and will run for a total of three years.