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SARTRE road train premieres on public roads

SARTRE road train premieres on public roads

For the first time ever, a road train – comprising a Volvo XC60, a Volvo V60 and a Volvo S60 plus one truck automatically driving in convoy behind a lead vehicle – has operated on a public motorway among other road users.


After entering the final phase of testing in early 2012, the SARTRE road train took to the roads on Spain recently. A road train comprising a Volvo XC60, a Volvo V60, a Volvo S60 and one truck automatically driving in convoy behind a lead vehicle operated on a public motorway among other road users outside Barcelona, Spain, and was highly successful. The vehicles are part of the SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project, a joint venture between Ricardo UK Ltd, Applus+ Idiada, Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Institut f?r Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen (IKA), SP Technical Research Institute, Volvo Technology and Volvo Car Corporation. Aimed at delivering improved comfort for drivers who can spend their time doing other things like work on their laptops, read a book or sit back and enjoy a relaxed lunch while driving, the project is also expected to help improve traffic safety, reduce environmental impact and – thanks to smooth speed control – cut the risk of traffic tailbacks. Comments SARTRE project director, Tom Robinson of Ricardo, “This is a very significant milestone in the development of safe road train technology”.


Adds Robinson, “For the very first time we have been able to demonstrate a convoy of autonomously driven vehicles following a lead vehicle with its professional driver, in a mixed traffic environment on a European motorway. The success of this test is a reflection of the hard work, dedication and innovative skills of the SARTRE project team and its contributing companies. While there remain many challenges to full scale implementation, the SARTRE project has demonstrated a very practical approach to the implementation of safe road train technology that is capable of delivering an improved driving experience, better road space utilisation and reduced carbon dioxide emissions. The convoy mentioned above drove at 85 kilometres per hour and the gap between each vehicle was just six metres. Avers Linda Wahlstr?m, project manager for the SARTRE project at Volvo Car Corporation, “Driving among other road-users is a great milestone in our project. It was truly thrilling”.

Sitting in a car just six metres behind another one while travelling at 85 km/h and relying totally on the technology may feel a bit scary. But the experiences gained so far indicate that people acclimatise very quickly. The three-year SARTRE project has been under way since 2009. Funded by the European Commission under the Framework 7 programme, the

project 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 programme is addressing a concept that as a whole will facilitate a step change in the use of private transportation. The consideration of how platoons interact with other non-platoon users is a critical facet of the programme. This programme has a significant element of research that is looking into this aspect and this will provide clear strategies that will be implemented in the prototype system.


A further unique element of the programme is the interaction between the lead vehicle and the following vehicles and how this can lead to a new business model for road use. I.e. following vehicles may be charged to join a platoon. The introduction of platooning on normal roads with private vehicles will achieve environmental benefits (with an estimated 20% emissions reduction), safety benefits (reduction of accidents caused by driver action) and a reduction on congestion (smoother traffic flow with potential consequential increase in throughput). The vehicles in the project have covered about 10,000 kilometres. After the test on the public roads in Spain, the project is now entering a new phase with the focus on analysis of fuel consumption.

Says Linda, “We covered 200 kilometres in one day and the test turned out well”.

“During our trials on the test circuit we tried out gaps from five to fifteen metres. We’ve learnt a whole lot during this period. People think that autonomous driving is science fiction, but the fact is that the technology is already here. From the purely conceptual viewpoint, it works fine and road trains will be around in one form or another in the future. We’ve focused really hard on changing as little as possible in existing systems. Everything should function without any infrastructure changes to the roads or expensive additional components in the cars. Apart from the software developed as part of the project, it is really only the wireless network installed between the cars that set them apart from other cars

available in showrooms today”, she adds. Concludes Tom Robinson, “Once the fuel consumption measurements are completed we will be drawing on the learning we have gained developing the platoon system and understanding the various human factors, to assess the likely roadmap and mechanisms for platoons and platoon technology to be operational on public highways – at which point we believe there will be a really positive impact on highway utilization”.

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