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SARTRE project : Let yourself be guided

Unusual Stories Published the 15/02/2010 by Laurent

SARTRE is the name of the new European project that aims to develop a technological process to enable vehicles to drive alone in convoy on motorways. An ingenious system which could herald tomorrow’s driving.

SARTRE project : Let yourself be guided

Effective for road traffic management, for driving pleasure, diminishing accidents and reducing polluting emissions, SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) is a project jointly funded by the European Commission and several companies, including Volvo. Its principle is as follows: you get onto the motorway and join several cars spaced a few centimetres apart before setting off in convoy. Rapidly, you can release the steering wheel and let the car go, getting on with whatever you want in complete safety and saving on fuel. Each road convoy will be comprised on six to eight cars. At its head is a lead car that behaves exactly like any vehicle on the motorway with all the usual functions. This lead vehicle will be driven by an experienced driver who knows the route perfectly. It may for example, be a taxi, bus or truck. When one of the cars approaches its destination, the driver takes over the control, leaves the convoy by the side and continues with its “normal” route. During this time, the other vehicles in the convoy fill the gap and continue their route until the cars disperse.

No investment in the road network

In scientists’ minds, road convoys are especially interesting for shuttles that cover long distances every day on motorways. They are also suitable for trucks, buses, vans and many other utility vehicles. One major advantage of the system as it is fully integrated into cars, is that it will not be necessary to equip the road network in any special way. This is currently at the project stage, but may see the light of day within a decade. The first prototypes equipped with this technology will be tested on circuits from 2011.

Volvo pioneers

Most automobile manufacturers have already examined the question, offering technologies able to exploit vehicles with no driver intervention. These cars will be able to accelerate, brake and turn alone and organize themselves into a convoy. This is already the case at Volvo with the S60 Concept (sold in 2010) which has an innovative system to control speed in traffic jams and dispense the driver from braking or accelerating to stop or restart. Even better, this vehicle will be equipped with technology enabling it to detect a pedestrian crossing the road; if the driver does not see the danger, the system automatically triggers emergency braking. Several factors have been taken into account to develop this system, such as the density of traffic, weather conditions or the road relief.

Even if Volvo is pioneering, several manufacturers can already offer autonomous cars with technologies all more ingenious and cleverer than the next.

Any onboard technology probably takes away from some of the driving pleasure but strengthens the safety aspect with collision detection systems, driver behaviour measurement, communication between vehicles. We are only one step away from imagining a driverless car, raising nevertheless a few major issues, such as for example legal liability in the event of an accident. Who to attack: the driver or the manufacturer?