SARTRE Project in Detail

About one year ago, in October 2009, Swedish manufacturer Volvo announced its involvement in the Safe Road Trains for the Environment project (SARTRE), an endeavor backed and financed by the European Commission under the Framework 7 program. The goal of the project, which also includes several other companies and organizations (Ricardo Idiada, Robotiker-Tecnalia, Institut fur Kraftfahrwesen Aachen, SP Technical Research Institute) is to (no more, no less) completely and forever change the way in which we see personal transportation. The goal of SARTRE is to create a world in which cars will interact at an intelligent level with one another and combine in so called road trains on highways. In the perfect future envisioned by SARTRE, cars will cue up one behind the other on existing and virtually unmodified highways, eliminating congestion, reducing environmental impact and increasing the personal comfort of the driver; in short, SARTRE will create the self driving car. The project is still in its infancy, with the European Union having a long way to go before developing the required regulations, schemes and other requirements needed for the concept to work. Volvo however announced earlier this week that it will be ready to test the SARTRE concept by the end of the year. Below is a short, but more intimate look into what the SARTRE project wants to achieve. CAR TRAINS
The future of personal transportation envisioned by the participants in the project pretty much revolve around only one concept: car trains. The concept calls for more cars to cue up on the highway behind a so called lead vehicle. The communication between the cars, done via wireless, will bring the vehicles closer together, stacking them up in a drafting line of cars.

All the car train system will depend on the existence of a lead vehicle, which will have to work just like an usual car works today: a driver behind the wheel, in control of all of the car's functions.

Slowly, as the lead car goes about its regular business on a predetermined route, in between six to eight cars, going roughly in the same direction, can cue up behind it. This will be done using the wireless connection between the cars and the lead vehicle.

Once part of the car train, the followers will be driven by a computer program, not by the driver, who can sit back and enjoy the ride. A series of programs will allow the vehicles to maintain a constant speed and distance behind the lead.

Once a following car is approaching its destination and needs to separate from the convoy, it can do so by exiting from the row with no intricate maneuvers or lots of buttons to push. The convoy, now lacking one car, will come closer together and continue to travel until no one is left behind the lead vehicle.

Of course, all this perfect coordination between speeding vehicles will have to rely on a very robust set of computer programs. These programs are exactly what is yet to be develop, despite the fact that Volvo says that “crucial software integration needed for driving automation has already commenced.”

The first tests for the SARTRE project will take place closer to the year's end. A fully functional 5 car train is expected to be presented no sooner than 2012.


Using this type of road behavior to travel has some serious advantages. For one, car trains will cut down congestion, as the vehicles will squeeze together in a tight, single file. Using computer programs to keep the speed and distance constant will help cut fuel consumption (by some 20 percent, according to the EU, depending on vehicle spacing and geometry). The drivers themselves will be spared from having to pay attention to the road and hence will feel more relaxed when having to take back control of their car.


Those who oppose computers taking too much control of our lives will have a field day with SARTRE. The software which will make it all possible had better be impressive and, unlike some automatic braking systems in Volvo models, had better work.

Car trains will only be possible on highways or similar roads, but will be completely useless in city driving. Finding the right train to join or reaching it at the appropriate time could be another disadvantage. Finally, the number of lead vehicles and destinations needs to be big enough to satisfy all the needs of those taking a ride in the car trains.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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