Vehicles that drive themselves along the motorway as part of large convoys are a step closer after the first successful test of the technology.
The SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project, led by engineering consultancy Ricardo UK, showed that a single car equipped with the technology could follow a lead vehicle around the Volvo Proving Ground near Gothenburg, Sweden.
Ricardo UK’s Tom Robinson, SARTRE project coordinator, said it was a major milestone for the programme and represented tangible progress towards the realisation of safe and effective road-train technology.
Vehicle platooning involves a line of multiple vehicles led by a professional driver, where each car measures the distance, speed and direction, adjusting to the car in front. Once in the platoon, drivers can relax and do other things while the platoon proceeds towards its long-haul destination and vehicles can leave the procession at any time.
The technology incorporates a navigation system and a transmitter/receiver unit that communicates with the lead vehicle that drives with full control of all the various functions.
Platooning is claimed to have a number of potential advantages. It can improve road safety, since it eliminates the human factor that is the cause of at least 80 per cent of road accidents. By reducing air resistance it saves fuel consumption and thus CO2 emissions up to 20 per cent. Also, since the vehicles travel at speed with only a few metres gap, platooning may also relieve traffic congestion.
It is the first time SARTRE has tested its systems outside the simulator, achieving distances of around 3km at speeds up to 40kph with an inter-vehicle gap of around 20m.
Robinson revealed that further tests will be carried out throughout 2011, with increasing speed, shorter inter-vehicle distance, more vehicles and more complex platoon strategies.
’These are likely to be carried out at test tracks in Gothenburg and the UK,’ he said. ’In 2012 we will be starting assessment where we are seeking to assess the actual benefits to platoon users, these will be carried out by Idiada [a company] on a test track in Spain and hopefully will include a demonstration of the system operating on a public highway in Spain.’
Other companies in the EU-financed SARTRE collaboration include Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia of Spain, Institut fur Kraftfahrwesen Aachen of Germany and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.