“Project SARTRE”, or Safe Road Trains for the Environment, is being hailed as a viable innovation in motorway driving. The project got underway last year with a research team led by engineering firm Ricardo UK and backed by the European Commission, and now it is ready to hit the highway.
SATRE’s “road train” system employs one lead vehicle, driven by a live human, to head up a convoy of between six and eight other vehicles, controlling all of them via wireless communication. The professional driver in the front is constantly monitored for alertness and prompt decision-making, while drivers in the rest of the train can take their eyes off the road and their foot off the accelerator.
Aimed at individual drivers with long commutes, the system will allow any vehicle that has the requisite technology to enter a convoy headed towards the driver’s destination. At some point just prior to arrival, each driver takes control of his or her vehicle to exit the train and maneuver to a final parking spot. Benefits of this automated travel include reduced congestion, higher speeds with reduced aero drag, greater fuel efficiency and not least, less stress for the drivers.
Tom Robinson, project coordinator for Ricardo UK, said that initial tests will be conducted this month with a single vehicle to validate all the factors in the control system, and he expects to move on to multiple-vehicle testing in 2011. There is no target date for putting the system in place on motorways, but the technology needed can be directly installed during production of future vehicles, and that may not be far away.