SARTRE consortium tests automotive "platooning"

January 24, 2012 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
The seven partners of the SARTRE project (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) have for the first time tested their technological approach outside the simulators, on real roads. The project uses car-to-car communication to form groups ("platoons") of vehicles in which the driver in a lead vehicle drives a line of other vehicles.

If it goes after SARTRE project coordinator Tom Robinson from automotive supplier Ricardo, platooning may be the new way of travelling on motorways in the not so distant future. "Platooning offers the prospect of improved road safety, better road space utilization, improved driver comfort on long journeys and reduced fuel consumption and hence CO2 emissions", Robinson said.

In the context of the project, 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. 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 his vehicle.

Platooning is designed to improve a number of things: Firstly road safety, since it minimises the human factor that is the cause of at least 80 percent of the road accidents. Secondly, it saves fuel consumption and thus CO2 emissions with up to 20 percent. 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 group believes.

At the first go, the test proved to be a success in that the technology worked well. “We are very pleased to see that the various systems work so well together already the first time,” says Erik Coelingh, engineering specialist at Volvo Cars. “After all, the systems come from seven SARTRE-member companies in four countries."

The next technology step will be developing a communications system working