This time last year, the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) program hit a milestone. Using a specially equipped Volvo S60 with a big-rig taking the lead, the EU-funded researchers managed to create the world's first fully-functional road train, allowing the driver in the sedan to sit back and enjoy the ride without touching the controls.

Today, Volvo – the program's only automotive partner – has announced that the SARTRE program is in its final phase of testing, and that includes adding a few more vehicles to the rolling procession of autonomous cars.

Utilizing a combination of cameras and radar-based sensors, the vehicles in the platoon can travel up to 55 miles per hour while maintaining a 20-foot gap between each other. An electronics-packed truck takes the lead and handles driving for all the vehicles in the group, meaning there's still at least one driver in control.

By the end of this year, the SARTRE team hopes to have up to six vehicles rolling in line, with the potential to reduce fuel consumption, congestion and – naturally – driver error in the future. So when's it coming to market? That's up to automakers, governments and the rest of us to decide, so we're still quite a ways out. Make the jump for more details and to see the system in action.





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VOLVO CAR CORPORATION AND THE SARTRE ROAD TRAIN PROJECT ENTERS FINAL PHASE

The SARTRE project (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) - with Volvo Car Corporation as the only participating car manufacturer - has successfully completed the first test demonstrations of a multiple vehicle platoon.

The test fleet included a lead truck followed by three cars driven entirely autonomously at speeds of up to 90 km/h - with no more than 6 metres gap between the vehicles.

"The aim is for the entire road train to be completed in autumn 2012. By then we will have four vehicles after one lead vehicle driving at 90 km/h," says Erik Coelingh, technical project manager at the Volvo Car Corporation.

The SARTRE project is being driven by seven European partners and 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.

Stakeholder dialogue

Recognising that the challenge of implementing road train technology on Europe's highways is not solely a technical matter, SARTRE also includes a major study to identify what infrastructure changes will be needed for vehicle platooning to become a reality. A number of stakeholder discussions will therefore be held. 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.

Key future requirements identified were the need to agree a common terminology for platooning, such as criteria for defining when a vehicle becomes fully, as opposed to partially or even highly automated, and the need to address multiple and varied national regulatory law or to harmonise regulatory law.

Many benefits

The main advantage of road trains is that the car driver has time over to do other things. Road trains promote safer transport since the vehicle platoons are led by a professional driver in e.g. a truck and inter-vehicle reaction response times are much quicker. Environmental impact is reduced since the cars follow close behind each other and benefit from the lower air drag. The energy saving is expected to be in the region of up to 20 percent. Road capacity will also be able to be utilised more efficiently.

NOTES TO EDITORS

About the SARTRE project:

The SARTRE project stands for Safe Road Trains for the Environment. 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.

SARTRE aims to encourage a step change in personal transport usage through the development of safe environmental road trains (platoons). Systems are being 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 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 summarised 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 percent depending on vehicle spacing and geometry. Safety benefits will arise from the reduction of accidents caused by driver action and driver fatigue. The utilisation 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 and will run for a total of three years. http://www.sartre-project.eu/

About the SARTRE project partners:

SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden is part of the SP Group, consisting of the parent company and its subsidiaries CBI, Glafo, SIK, SMP, YKI and JTI. It constitutes a substantial group of institutes for research, innovation and sustainable development of industry and society. The Group covers a wide technical range, with laboratory resources that are fully up to national and international standards. A staff of about 1 000, of whom half are university trained and about 250 have research scientist training, constitute an important knowledge resource. Since November 2009, the SP Group has been wholly owned by the state holding company, RISE Holding AB.

Ricardo plc is a leading independent technology provider and strategic consultant to the world's transportation sector and clean energy industries. The company's engineering expertise ranges from vehicle systems integration, controls, electronics and software development, to the latest driveline and transmission systems and gasoline, diesel, hybrid and fuel cell power train technologies, as well as wind energy and tidal power systems. A public company listed on the London Stock Exchange, Ricardo plc posted sales of £162.8 million in financial year 2010. Ricardo is participating in the SARTRE project through its UK business, Ricardo UK Ltd.

For more information, visit http://www.ricardo.com/.

The Robotiker-Tecnalia Technology Centre is an all-round supplier of contracted R+D+I, which has a complete range of services and products ranging from foresight and technology surveillance to new technology based business launching. Of this wide range of methods for collaborating with companies, development of R&D projects and technology consultancy services stand out. Robotiker-Tecnalia operates in its reference markets through five business units: ENERGY, TELECOM, AUTOMOTIVE, INFOTECH and INNOVA. This helps the technology centre to specialise by orienting research towards the needs of companies in these key sectors. Its mainly objective is to actively contribute to sustainable development in Society through Research and Technological Transfer. Over the years Robotiker-Tecnalia has taken part in more than 85 European projects, 24 of which remain ongoing. http://www.robotiker.com/

Volvo Technology Corporation is a Business Unit of the Volvo Group, which is one of the world's leading manufacturers of commercial transport solutions providing products such as trucks, buses, construction equipment, drive systems for marine and industrial applications as well as aircraft engine components. Founded in 1927, Volvo today has about 100,000 employees, production in 19 countries and operates on more than 180 markets. Volvo Technology Corporation is an innovation company that on contract basis invents researches, develops and integrates new product and business concepts and technology for hard as well as soft products within the transport and vehicle industry. Volvo Technology's primary customers are the Volvo Group Business Areas & Units. In addition, Volvo Technology participates in national and international projects in certain strategic areas, organised in common research programmes. For more information see http://www.tech.volvo.com/.

Applus+ IDIADA, as a global partner to the automotive industry, provides complete solutions for automotive development projects worldwide. Applus+ IDIADA's Technical Centre is located 70 km south of Barcelona (Spain), having subsidiaries and branch offices in 19 European, Asian and American countries with a total work force of around 1300 employees. The core services Applus+ IDIADA provides are: Engineering, Proving Ground and Homologation. Main fields of engineering activity are power train, emissions, noise & vibration, vehicle dynamics, braking systems, fatigue & durability and passive safety. Applus+ IDIADA's proving ground is recognised as one of the best facilities in the world, and is renowned for the quality of its costumer service. As a multi-user facility, safety and confidentiality are of the highest priority. Weather conditions make this facility the first choice regardless of the type of testing.

The Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge of the RWTH Aachen University (ika) with its centennial history is engaged in education and in industry-orientated research on vehicles - e.g. cars, commercial vehicles, busses and motorcycles - as well as neighbouring issues such as traffic and environmental conditions (noise, exhaust gas, etc.). ika is headed by Univ.-Prof. Dr.- Ing. Lutz Eckstein. In 2009 ika had more than 200 employees. IKA increasingly links research projects with development tasks that have to be financed by third-party funding. ika´s activities are tailored to industrial demands and comprise the departments: Chassis - Body - Drive train - Acoustics - Electronics - Driver Assistance - Strategy and Process Development. The Driver Assistance department focuses on the development and assessment of driver assistance systems. Since the first introduction of advanced driver assistant systems (ADAS) ika has been one of the leading test facilities for independent tests and certifications of the system's components and overall applications. For more information please see www.ika.rwth-aachen.de.

Volvo Car Corporation is one of the car industry's strongest brands, with a long and proud history of world-leading innovations. Volvo sells approximately 450.000 cars per year in about 120 countries and comprising some 2,000 sales outlets and service workshops around the world. Volvo Car Corporation's headquarter and other corporate functions are based in Gothenburg, Sweden. For more information, please check http://www.volvocars.com/ and www.youtube.com/volvocarsnews