Europe tests autonomous road trains

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The EU's road train project, Sartre, has undergone its first real-world tests in Sweden.

Vehicle platooning, as the team calls it, involves a convoy of vehicles led by a professional driver. Each car monitors the one in front to maintain a consistent distance. Vehicles can leave the procession at any time; but, while they're in it, drivers can relax and do other things.

"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 winter weather provided some extra testing of cameras and communication equipment."

The tests used a lead vehicle with a single following car. The steering wheel of the following car moved by itself as the vehicle followed the lead truck around the country road test track.

The system's developers say that such road trains could be commonplace on Europe's freeways in as little as ten years - if the public takes to the idea and national governments implement appropriate laws.

Sartre should improve road safety, as it minimises the human factor that's the cause of at least 80 percent of road accidents. It also cuts fuel consumption and thus CO2 emissions by up to 20 percent, says the team, and could also relieve traffic congestion as  vehicles travel only a few meters apart.

 "This is a major milestone for this important European research programme," says Tom Robinson, Sartre project coordinator.

"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".