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201229 May

Volvo convoy

The SARTRE convoy in action.


For the first time in the automobile history, a road train test model, Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) experimentally embarked upon public motorway outside Barcelona in Spain. It integrated several Volvo models, including a Volvo XC60, a Volvo V60 and a Volvo S60 that automatically navigated in convoy formation behind a guiding truck while running side by side with other passing vehicles. If deemed as successful then this project will be a significant leap for Volvo’s tryst with safety technology, research works and inventions which is a key ally of technological partners of SARTRE project.


Commenting on the historic test drive, a jubilant Linda Wahlström, Project Manager of the SARTRE project at Volvo Car Corporation said: "We covered 200 kilometres in one day and the test turned out well. We're really delighted."


An overview of SARTRE project:


The SARTRE road train system forms up a platoon comprising of maximum eight vehicles interlinked electronically. The initial aim is to include passenger car commuters but later on there is also an aim to aid commercial vehicles and buses. Off-the-shelf components integrated into the project, plus limited focus on highway infrastructure alteration will keep the cost down.


Safe Road Trains for the Environment project includes a substantial financial share of the European Commission under the Framework 7 programme. This revolutionary project has been chiefly controlled by Ricardo UK Ltd in collaboration with several ancillary companies, including Idiada and Tecnalia Research & Innovation of Spain, Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen (IKA) of Germany and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, Volvo Car Corporation and Volvo Technology of Sweden.


The mega convenient and safe driving technical project aims to usher in a sea change in the overall road traffic system while reducing accidental collisions. The upcoming safe environmental road trains (platoons) if proved successful will definitely be regarded as one of the ‘all time greatest’ inventions in the automobile world. Prototypal vehicles will ensure safe adoption of road trains on crowded public highways while maintaining full communication with non-platoon passing vehicles. The triple key issues of traffic management and transportation including environment, safety and congestion have been addressed by the dream SARTRE project.


It is to be noted that that the lead vehicle in the platoon will act as the engine of a train driven by an expert and professional driver closely monitored and followed by several other vehicles. Volvo Car Corporation's and Volvo Technology's sophisticated proven technical systems will guide the ‘train’ including high-resolution cameras, radar and laser sensors. Through a compact high-performance mechanism the follower cars will not only monitor the leading vehicle but also keep a tab on other passing vehicles from close quarters. Addition of wireless communication will enable the vehicles in the platoon to exactly replicate the driving movement of the front car, in the aspects of accelerating, braking and turning thanks to Ricardo autonomous control, thus reducing road congestion hazards and collision fear.


Linda Wahlström

Linda Wahlström, Project Manager of the SARTRE project at Volvo Car Corporation


Leisure trip for the drivers


Once operational, the unique auto navigation project will take the drivers to a relaxed zone. They will be able to perform a host of activities generally prohibited while driving, including working the laptop, reading books, cherish a wholesome lunch, talking on the mobile phone and other leisure activities. Virtually the SARTRE project will introduce a new hi-tech driving experience, reminiscing special scenes from Sci-Fi films. Driving will become a multi-tasking pleasure-trip no doubt.


Sharing the details of the Spanish test result, Linda Wahlström informed, "Driving among other road-users is a great milestone in our project. It was truly thrilling." She further added, “The vehicles drove at 85 kilometres an hour. The gap between each vehicle was just six metres. During our trials on the test circuit we tried out gaps from five to fifteen metres."


For general car operators complete reliance on technology while driving in 80+ km/h may give goose bumps, but going by the test results it has been witnessed that people have been acclimatising rather quickly with the experimental mechanism. The credit should go to the user-friendly features of the road train.


The ambitious SARTRE project has been under way since 2009. Within this duration the road train technology has successfully crossed about 10,000 kilometres. The technology has already displayed its mettle at the Volvo Proving Ground near Gothenburg, Sweden, two years back. The next goal is verifying its fuel efficiency level.


Commenting on the core ideology of the project, Linda Wahlström commented “We've focused really hard on changing as little as possible in existing systems. Everything should function without any infrastructure changes to the roads or expensive additional components in the cars. Apart from the software developed as part of the project, it is really only the wireless network installed between the cars that set them apart from other cars available in showrooms today."


A snapshot of SARTRE principles


  • To evolve a set of acceptable platooning strategies for smooth running of the road trains on public highways without any need to alter the road and roadside infrastructure.
  • To augment, generate and assimilate technologies for a prototype platooning system to make them easily measurable in real world situations.
  • To showcase the ideal use of platoons that will effect environmental, safety and congestion improvements.
  • To explain the utility of a new business model to encourage the use of platoons that will be acceptable and beneficial to both the lead vehicle operators and to platoon subscribers.


Benefits to be derived from SARTRE’s expected success


If driven in ideal formation, the fuel consumption can be lower down by as much as 20 percent. In long journey trips this will be of special help, since the mechanism will provide enhanced relaxation to the drivers to get rid of fatigue and in turn reduce error.

Tom Robinson, SARTRE Project Director, from Ricardo summed up the application of this project, “While there remain many challenges to full scale implementation, the SARTRE project has demonstrated a very practical approach to the implementation of safe road train technology that is capable of delivering an improved driving experience, better road space utilization and reduced carbon dioxide emissions.”

The attraction of low cost smooth driving experience will be virtually immeasurable. Moreover, it will reduce journey time by scientifically handling road traffic management. For more information, automobile lovers can visit http://www.sartre-project.eu/.

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