“Platooning” may offer a new way of traveling on highways in as little as 10 years, according to participants in the SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project, which is funded in part by the European Commission under the Framework 7 program. The successful demonstration, at the Volvo Proving Ground close to Gothenburg, Sweden, is the first time the project development teams tried their systems together outside of simulators.
Vehicle platooning is a convoy of vehicles in which a professional driver in a lead vehicle drives a line of other vehicles. Each car measures the distance, speed, and direction of the car in front and adjusts accordingly. All vehicles are totally detached and can leave the procession at any time. But once in the platoon, drivers can relax and do other things while the platoon proceeds toward its long-haul destination.
The demonstration included a lead vehicle and a single following car. The steering wheel of the following car moved by itself as the vehicle smoothly followed the lead truck around the country road test track. In a real-road situation, the “driver” of the following car would be free to read the paper, catch up on work, or even take a nap.
Platooning is designed to improve road safety, save fuel, and reduce CO2 emissions. Because the vehicles would travel at highway speed with only a few meters between them, platooning may also relieve traffic congestion.
The technology development is well underway and can most likely go into production in a few years, say program participants. What may take substantially longer are public acceptance and the passing of legislation among the 25 EU governments to enable the technology.
SARTRE is led by Ricardo UK Ltd and is a collaboration of 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.