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Multiple "car train" automated driving testing to reach four vehicles soon
Volvo Car Corporation tests with its partners
The SARTRE road train project with a three cars platoon

The lead truck followed by three cars driven autonomously at speeds of up to 90 km/h (56 mph), at no more than 6 metres gap between the vehicles.

The lead truck followed by three cars driven autonomously at speeds of up to 90 km/h (56 mph), at no more than 6 metres gap between the vehicles.

26 January 2012 : Volvo Car Corporation announced yesterday the successful completion of its first test demonstrations with its partners, of a three-vehicle platoon in the SARTRE project (Safe Road Trains for the Environment).

With the Swedish brand as the only participating car manufacturer in the interesting concept born in 1999 to propose new models for future car travelling, the test fleet included a lead truck (opposite picture) followed by three cars driven entirely autonomously at speeds of up to 90 km/h (56 mph), at no more than 6 metres gap between the vehicles.

Drivers get time to do other things while driving on long trips.

Driven by seven European partners, Volvo adds that the SARTRE project is the only one of its kind to focus on the development of technology that can be implemented on conventional highways in which platooned traffic operates in a mixed environment with other road users.

The project aims to encourage a significant change in personal transport usage through the development of safe environmental road trains made of several cars (platoons), while preserving the independence to join or leave the platoon (or the "train") at the desired point.

Sketch of a road train made of five cars behind the control truck. Each car's driver activity is represented by an orange logo (drinking coffee, listening to music, eating, using the phone, reading...), with the lowest two pictures showing a car joining from the rear (the sixth) and car (the third one) leaving the platoon for a different destination.

Another important advantage comes from the fact that contrary to other automated technologies currently under testing and development, the systems which are being developed for the SARTRE project aim to define a set of acceptable platooning strategies that will allow road trains to operate on public highways without costly changes to the road and roadside infrastructure, while allowing full interaction with the other non-platooned vehicles.

While encouraging driver acceptance in exchange of increased "driver comfort" and time to do other things while driving on long trips, the main objectives of the project include the development of integrated technologies for a prototype platooning system to be assessed under real world scenarios, to demonstrate how the use of platoons can lead to environmental, safety and congestion improvements and to prove that a new business model can be used to encourage the use of platoons with benefits to both lead vehicle operators and to platoon subscribers.

Environmental impact is also expected to be reduced since the cars follow close behind each other with lower air drag. Volvo estimates fuel consumption savings for high speed highway driving in the region of 20 percent depending on vehicle spacing and geometry.

Safety benefits can be expected from the reduction of accidents caused by driver action (mainly errors) or fatigue.

The utilisation of existing road capacity should also be increased with a potential reduction in journey times.

Click here to see how it works on the graphic.

The multiple vehicle platoon technology does not rely only on safety and environment arguments, as it also promises smoother, more predicable and cheaper journeys with additional free time while being "platooned" (or more time to complete an unfinished work).

A video presentation of the SARTRE multiple vehicle platoon project (or road train) can be viewed on the volvocarsnews account at youtube.com/volvocarsnews. See also the graphical illustration of how the SARTRE road train (multiple vehicle platoon) works, how to join it and how to leave it.

Since the challenge of implementing a new road train technology on highways is not only a technical matter, SARTRE also looks into infrastructure changes needed for vehicle platooning to become a reality, through a number of stakeholder discussions.

The participants in the first discussion included technical experts, politicians, legislators and traffic safety researchers. At the workshop a number of non-technical challenges for road trains were discussed, such as legal regulations, product liability and driver acceptance of automated vehicles. 

At present, key future requirements identified were the need to agree a common terminology for platooning, such as criteria for defining when a vehicle becomes partially, highly or fully automated, and the need to address multiple and varied national regulatory laws or to harmonise them.

While many questions are expected to emerge around the implementation of such a highly automated system, many advantages are promised. For instance, the platooned car driver has time to do other things while his / her car is being controlled by the lead vehicle. Road trains aim to promote safer transport since the vehicle platoons are led by a professional driver in a truck (or other types of vehicles with high visibility) and inter-vehicle reaction response times are expected to be much quicker than in the usual independent driving mode.

Road capacity should also be utilised more efficiently, as each km / mile of road should be able to "process" a higher number of cars per hour.

Obviously unrelated with the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, the SARTRE project (stands for Safe Road Trains for the Environment) formally started in September 2009 and runs for a total of three years (more at www.sartre-project.eu). It is led by Ricardo UK Ltd (www.ricardo.com) with the additional participating companies Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia of Spain (www.robotiker.com), Institut fr Kraftfahrwesen Aachen (IKA) of Germany (www.ika.rwth-aachen.de), and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, Volvo Car Corporation (www.volvocars.com) and Volvo Technology of Sweden (www.tech.volvo.com), the whole project is partly funded by the European Commission under the Framework 7 programme.

 

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