Riding the Road Train

  Imagine the ability to achieve a 20% improvement in fuel efficiency during a drive on a highway by doing nothing.

 

Imagine the ability to achieve a 20% improvement in fuel efficiency during a drive on a highway by doing nothing. Almost literally nothing. A 20% improvement that would be achieved by your car as well as those proximate to you.

This is the potential outcome of the European SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) that recently announced that its first test demonstration of a multiple vehicle platoon—a semi truck followed by three cars—worked successfully.

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While you might think that driving at speeds up to 90 km/h (56 mph) with no more than 6 m (20 ft) is not all that big a deal, it is if you take into account that the cars were driven entirely autonomously. As in “Look, ma, no hands!”

The rationale is that there can be a highly skilled lead driver in the truck, then the following cars oriented and controlled by sensors following. Not only should this improve safety, but because of the lower air drag (i.e., “drafting”) caused by the cars following, there is the improvement of energy savings.

Said Carl Bergenhem of the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, “A challenge has been to develop reliable communication between the vehicles in the platoon. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication is essential to ensure safety at high speeds and short vehicle spacing.”

SARTRE has been underway since September 2009 and it is to continue until later in 2012.

“The aim is for the entire road train to be completed in autumn 2012,” said Erik Coelingh, technical project manager, Volvo Car Corp. “By then we will have four vehicles after one lead vehicle driving at 90 km/h.”

In addition to SP and Volvo, other partners in SARTRE are Ricardo, the Robotiker-Tecnalia Technology Centre, Volvo Technology Corp., Applus + IDIADA, and the Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge of the RWTH Aachen University.

Consider this: Sweden, which is well represented in SARTRE, has a land area of 158,431 sq. miles. California alone has a land area of 115,800 sq. miles. Imagine the potential for road trains in that state alone.