Technology that would let a convoy of vehicles be driven as a single 'road train' on motorways has been successfully demonstrated at the Volvo Proving Ground near Gothenburg, Sweden.
This is the first time the development teams in the EU-financed SARTRE project have tried their systems together outside the simulators.
SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) involves seven member companies from four countries. They are developing 'platooning' systems in prototype form that will enable road trains to run safely on un-modified public highways along with other traffic.
"We are very pleased to see that the various systems work so well together already," said Eric Coelingh, engineering specialist at Volvo Cars. "The winter weather provided some extra testing of cameras and communication equipment."
As envisaged by the SARTRE project, a platoon is a convoy of vehicles driven by a professional driver in the lead vehicle. Each car measures the distance, speed and direction and adjusts to the car in front. All vehicles are totally detached and can leave 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 at Gothenburg involved a lead truck and single following car. The car steering wheel moved by itself as the vehicle smoothly followed the lead truck around the country road test track. The driver demonstrated that he could drink coffee or read a paper, using neither hand nor foot to operate his vehicle.
Platooning is intended to improve road safety, CO2 emissions and traffic congestion, with driver acceptance driven by the prospect of greater comfort on long journeys. It eliminates the human factor that is said to cause least 80 percent of road accidents, it reduces fuel consumption and thus CO2 emissions, and because the vehicles travel at highway speeds with separations of only a few metres it might also ease congestion.
"This is a major milestone for this important European research programme," says Tom Robinson, SARTRE project coordinator, of Ricardo UK. "Platooning offers the prospect of improved road safety, better road space utilisation, improved driver comfort on long journeys and reduced fuel consumption and hence CO2 emissions. With the combined skills of its participating companies, SARTRE is making tangible progress towards the realisation of safe and effective road train technology".
The technology development is well under way and could be ready to go into production in a few years time. However, public acceptance might take considerably longer, as could enabling legislation across all 27 EU member states.
SARTRE is led by Ricardo UK Ltd and is a collaboration also involving Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia of Spain, Institut für Kraftfahrwesen Aachen (IKA) of Germany, SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, Volvo Car Corporation and Volvo Technology of Sweden.