The Future of Driving: Volvo and the SARTRE project

The Future of Driving: Volvo and the SARTRE project
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The Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project has announced the first successful field test of a multiple vehicle autonomous platoon, in a move which it claims could help improve road utilization and reduce environmental impact.

The SARTRE project is funded by the European Commission under the Framework 7 program, aims to develop strategies and technologies to allow vehicle platoons to operate on normal public highways with significant environmental, safety and comfort benefits.  Sartre is led by Ricardo UK Ltd and includes a collaboration between the following additional participating companies: Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia of Spain, Institut for Kraftfahrwesen Aachen (IKA) of Germany, SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, Volvo Car Corporation and Volvo Technology of Sweden.

The key feature of the project comes from the consumer vehicles which are driven entirely autonomously with no input from the person in the driver’s seat. Instead, the cars rely on signals transmitted from the professional driver in the lead vehicle, which is imagined as a large truck or similar transport vehicle.

The project aims to encourage a step change in personal transport usage by developing of environmental roadtrains called platoons.

Systems will be developed facilitating the safe adoption of road trains on un-modified public highways with interaction with other traffic.

A scheme will be developed whereby a lead vehicle with a professional driver will take responsibility for a platoon. Following vehicles will enter a semi-autonomous control mode that allows the driver of the following vehicle to do other things that would normally be prohibited for reasons of safety; for example, operate a phone, reading a book or watching a movie.

A further unique element of the program is the interaction between the lead vehicle and the following vehicles and how this can lead to a new business model for road use. I.e. following vehicles may be charged to join a platoon. The introduction of platooning on normal roads with private vehicles will achieve environmental benefits (with an estimated 20% emissions reduction), safety benefits (reduction of accidents caused by driver action) and a reduction on congestion (smoother traffic flow with potential consequential increase in throughput).

While the project relies on the concept of a lead vehicle, this concept can perfectly be extended to self guided and regulated vehicles coordinated by a central command center. A mix of autonomous and remote controlled driving capabilities may be the future of driving in the increasingly crowded roads and highways around large urban centers.

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