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March 2012
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Volvo Works to Develop Viable "Road Trains"
A look at the SARTRE project
by Tim Watson

The SARTRE project (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) – with Volvo 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 60 mph, with no more than 20 feet of a gap between 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 60 mph,” says Erik Coelingh, technical project manager at the Volvo Car Corporation.

Many Benefits

The main advantage of road trains is that the driver of the car has time over to do other things. Road trains promote safer transport since the vehicle platoons are led by a professional driver in 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 utilized more efficiently.

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 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 vehicles 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 utilization 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 predictable 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. For more info, please visit: http://www.sartre-project.eu 


Acknowledgements: “Volvo Car Corporation and the SARTRE Road Train Project Enters Final Phase.” Press Release. Volvo Media, U.K. <http://www.media.volvocars.com/uk> 6 March 2012

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