Cleantech Republic

Thursday 8 August 2013

A European project invents a self-driven car convoy

Mobility | No comments

by Elsa Sidawy | | 07.07.11


Listening to music, making a phone call, working, eating a sandwich, watching the scenery while driving… This utopia could soon become real. Launched in September 2009, the European research project called SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), aims, within ten years or so, at giving people driving on motorways the opportunity to gather together in convoys in order to improve safety and comfort while reducing their environmental footprint.

corps_sartre_110306A convoy of six to eight vehicles driving at 90 kph on the motorway

In practical terms, the leading vehicle, a lorry or a bus driven by a professional, types in his provisional itinerary on a web platform accessible to those who might be interested to follow him and who will thus be able to plan their departure time in order to join the convoy. Once on the motorway, it takes the lead of a convoy made of six to eight other vehicles running at a maximum speed of 90 kph, that is the maximum speed limit for heavy vehicles on European roads. When a car driver wishes to join the pack, he makes a request through the dashboard built in his vehicle, positions himself at the back of the queue and automatically switches to semi-automatic drive, which allows him to take his foot off the pedal in order to attend his business. As soon as he wants to leaves the convoy, he can warn the other vehicles any time and get back behind the wheel.

Technologically, the concept is not that revolutionary. Each vehicle has captors measuring the distance from the car in front: “we use a technology called “vehicle to vehicle communications”, enabling vehicles to communicate with each other in order to combine and coordinate all their movements,” Eric Chan explains, chief engineer at Ricardo Ltd, the English firm running the project. Each car is thus able to measure distance, speed and direction compared with the other vehicles and adjust itself to the convoy’s movements in real time. There is no need to change the road infrastructure itself since all the intelligence is in the captors.


Comfort, safety and reduction of CO2 emissions

This motorway train project, half-funded by the European Commission within the framework of the 7th frame programme, set many objectives. First of all, statistics show that when a road accident happens, the driver bears responsibility 90% of the time. Sharing driving responsibility and enabling drivers to have breaks would improve safety and enhance users’ comfort. Thanks to the drafting effect and the reduction of the aerodynamic drag, cars would also use less petrol, thus reducing their CO2 emissions up to 20%.

A first test at 50 kph
At the beginning of January, the partners made a first test without simulators near Göteborg in Sweden, with a leading lorry and a following car driving at 50 kph. The test was conclusive for the project partners, who claim that with the captors that are now available on the market, the project could be feasible. Still, more testing needs to be done with several vehicles and at higher speed. The research project should be completed in September 2012 but, even though the concept might technically be workable next year, the current European legal system would not allow it. Add to this the psychological barriers of drivers, who are probably not inclined to let heavy vehicles drive their fast cars. The time has not come yet for us to be able to watch a film while driving.

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Credits : Volvo Car Corporation

Content shared with our partner, the online mag dedicated to urban innovation.

Translated by Oona Bijasson

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