Imagine safely enjoying your morning coffee and reading the newspaper behind the steering wheel, while your car is traveling at highway speeds. Well, this could be a reality in as little as ten years time, thanks (or no thanks...) to the European Union-funded SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project, which successfully tested the concept of vehicle platooning at the Volvo Proving Ground close to Gothenburg, Sweden.
The idea was to create intelligent convoys of vehicles with a professional driver in the lead vehicle leading the rest of the cars. Each car measures distance, speed and direction and adjusts to the car in front, while being totally detached. Vehicles can leave the platoon at any time, but once in, drivers can relax and do other things, without having to worry about actually driving their cars.
Tests carried out involved a lead vehicle and single car that was able to steer itself as it was trailing the lead truck around the test track.
According to SARTRE, platooning is designed to improve a number of things, such as road safety and fuel consumption. It also allows drivers to concentrate on other matters than driving and, since vehicles in a platoon travel just a few meters apart, it may relieve traffic congestion.
The program is lead by Ricardo UK with other six companies contributing, including Volvo Car Corporation. The technology development is said to be well underway and could go into production in a few years. However, public acceptance and legislation issues will prolong the process, thus the announced 10-year timeframe.
“We are very pleased to see that the various systems work so well together already the first time”, said Erik Coelingh, engineering specialist at Volvo Cars. “After all, the systems come from seven SARTRE-member companies in four countries. The winter weather provided some extra testing of cameras and communication equipment”.
“This is a major milestone for this important European research program”, said Tom Robinson, SARTRE project coordinator, of Ricardo UK. “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. With the combined skills of its participating companies, SARTRE is making tangible progress towards the realization of safe and effective road train technology”.
For a more in-depth look at the SARTRE project check out the video below.
By Csaba Daradics