SARTRE car platoon road tests to begin (w/ Video)

Dec 10, 2010 by Lin Edwards report

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project in Europe aims to develop a wireless system that will allow cars on a public highway or motorway to join in a platoon, or semi-autonomous “road train” of vehicles with a professional driver in a single vehicle (such as a bus or truck) at the front driving for all vehicles in the platoon. The project will reach a major milestone of its first on-road tests before the end of this year.

The SARTRE system, described earlier in PhysOrg when the project began, will proceed to road tests of a leading vehicle and one following vehicle before the end of December. The required hardware will be installed into the two vehicles, including communications equipment and sensors. The required software integration has already begun. The road tests are intended to validate the sensors, actuators and control system in the two-vehicle platoon.

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The three-year project aims to provide improvements in traffic flow, faster journey times and savings in fuel consumption while allowing drivers to relax and arrive at their destinations with less stress, which it is hoped will also reduce the number of traffic accidents. It will operate on ordinary, unmodified public highways on which other vehicles are traveling.

Drivers will be free to join and leave the single-file platoon at any point, but while in the platoon their will be driven for them. Once the vehicle joins the platoon a computer will take over steering, braking and acceleration, allowing the driver to carry out other activities that would normally be too dangerous, such as reading a book, watching TV, operating a phone or computer, or eating breakfast. The lead vehicle of the platoon will follow a set route and speed.

The first year of the project concentrated on refining the concept and investigating the most feasible means of creating a platooning system. Realistic simulations have also been carried out at Tecnalia in Bilbao, Spain, to gauge the reactions of a wide variety of drivers to being placed in a platoon in which they travel at high speed close behind another vehicle but without controlling their themselves. The simulator also monitored the reactions of drivers who were not part of the platoon, but were driving in the same environment.

In 2011 and 2012 the group aims to demonstrate the system with a five-vehicle convoy as a final goal of the project.

The SARTRE project is being funded by the European Commission under its Framework 7 program, and is being developed by seven companies, including Ricardo UK Ltd, Volvo Technology in Sweden, and Robotiker-Tecnalia in Spain. It is likely to be another decade before the system is fully operational.

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More information: www.sartre-project.eu/en/Sidor/default.aspx

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User comments : 32

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CreepyD
5 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2010
This could make a good stepping stone to fully automated cars in terms of public confidence in the cars driving themselves.
As things stand, even if it was 100% confirmed that cars could drive themselves, I still don't think people would want that happening.
rally2xs
5 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2010
What a horrible idea. Those cars are going to be running nose to tail, and there will always be some pinhead pacing them in the left lane, so there will be no way to get around the blockade. The "professional driver" will have to do exactly 55 mph or 65 mph or whatever the speed limit is, and there will be tons of anxious drivers in the left lane attempting to tailgate the lane blocker into going faster, and... it'll be a chain-reaction accident waiting to happen. Only way this works is if the roadway is 3 lanes or more, all the way.
rally2xs
4 / 5 (2) Dec 10, 2010
...And, just get trapped in the left lane when your exit comes up, and you can't get between the cars in the platoon to get to it. You'll slam on the brakes to let the platoon pass, and probably get rear-ended when you get down to 20 mph to let them by. Holy cow... I really hate this idea.
Natasha_Stephenson
4 / 5 (4) Dec 10, 2010
rally2xs - Not much of a visionary, are you? The problems you mention are not be-all, end-all: they're challenges and obstacles to be overcome, as every new technology faces. There were many reasons to think the automobile was going to be a terrible idea, or the airplane. Fortunately, people saw beyond those reasons, and what once was unthinkable is now commonplace. The developers of this project have certainly considered your concerns as part of the simulation mentioned in article ("The simulator also monitored the reactions of drivers who were not part of the platoon, but were driving in the same environment.") I'm excited and curious to see what they come up with. This is a concept I've wished for since I came of driving age and realized I could not expect to be ferried around anymore, while I read my books! (;
NotAsleep
not rated yet Dec 10, 2010
I'd recommend you read the comments in the original article before posting here, lots of good insight to be had (and this article doesn't present anything new other than "testing has begun")
rally2xs
3 / 5 (3) Dec 10, 2010
I just read all the comments in the original article, and nobody has addressed the idea that there are pinheads that will simply pace the platoon, and block all passing, nor the idea that someone will get trapped in the left lane, and have to decelerate to 20 mph to let the platoon go by in order to make his exit that is coming up in 0.1 mile. This concept needs its own road, and even then, there are wild-cards like deer and other animals to really cause havoc. No, I don't like it. I would like a rail system to carry each car, individually, and route it to a destination automatically, so the "driver" could sleep all the way if he wanted to, and actually know how to build it (it needs a special switch to remove a car from a "train" without slowing the train down), but it would be hideously expensive.
Quantum_Conundrum
5 / 5 (3) Dec 10, 2010
rally2xs:

Of course you realize that if all cars were automated the computer would automatically "sort" the cars based on their destination and when they are expected to arrive at the relevant on/off ramps, thus causing cars to change lanes as needed,giving space to one another as needed, in an almost ideal fashion.

If everyone had automated cars, you would never need worry about any of the problems you mentioned. That's actually the point.
Bonkers
5 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2010
Ha, you silly Americans, don't you know that we drive on the left in Yoorp? - These guys are all in the fast lane, so they will not block exits. There are very few exit lanes "on the wrong side" - i.e. from the fast lane, none in the UK, but i know there are some in France and Germany, so, yes, in some circumstances you have the nightmare mentioned.
The other thing is that having a truck in front is both illegal on 3-lane motorways, and bloody slow - the road train needs to be at 85-100mph to avoid being undertaken (also illegal in EU).
fantastic idea though, bring it on..
CHollman82
1 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2010
I'm concerned that the number of variables are greater than they are accounting for...

What happens if one of the platoon cars suffers some form of failure such as a blown tire or even a wheel coming off the bearing... is this system going to be able to safely respond to that with each car only inches from the next at high speed?

I don't know about Europe, but where I am from we have ice and snow covering the roads 4-5 months a year and during the rest of the year we have deer all over the place... not to mention the truck retreads (big hunks of tire rubber from tractor trailers all over the highways)...

I just think this is premature and is a disaster waiting to happen. There are too many possible catastrophic occurrences to take into account and when one inevitably happens the resulting accident will be ten times worse considering how close all of the vehicles are to each other.

God speed to the beta testers anyway...
rally2xs
3 / 5 (2) Dec 10, 2010
85-100 mph? You aren't familiar with the flavor of American gov't corruption in the setting of speed limits, eh? They would force this thing to obey the prevailing speed limit, which is probably 55 - 65 mph, unless you are out west in sparse population, where it goes up to 80 sometimes. But 85-100? That gov't would never allow it, and the American attitudes, that are mostly fostered by the vast majority of Americans that don't know how to drive for crap, would keep the thing at ridiculously low speeds and a roadblock. Having it in the fast lane would be just 10 times worse, and yes, we have LOTS and LOTS of left-lane (high speed lane) exits, too. The whole thing appears to me to be a nightmare when considering the American transportation system.
rally2xs
1 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2010
CHollman82:

You are correct. I forgot to consider the snow AND the truck retreads. The only way this thing works is if it has its OWN piece of highway, without human-driven cars intermixing, and it is "sealed" against both snow and deer / other animals. This thing is a deathtrap, unless they spend more money on it than it can possibly be worth.
Quantum_Conundrum
not rated yet Dec 10, 2010
CHollman82 and rally2xs:

Ok, I don't really like the "platooning" concept either, but that doesn't mean that automated cars wouldn't work.

I think the cars should be controlled individually be a computer system, not in a static "train".

Debris on the road is solved through a combination of Radar, Lidar, and video and infrared image-finding software. Information would be fed back to local "hubs" where the system is able to map debris on the road and notify crews (or send an automated snow plow,) to remove the debris. In any case, by constantly updating the system in this way, the computer could anticipate the debris for future vehicles passing in the area since it has already been detected.

Very similar technology to this is already in use by the Wii and Xbox gaming consoles as a live action interface.
CHollman82
1 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2010
Right, if this is going to be done it should be through a two-tier approach where each vehicle has it's own brain and makes it's own decisions but such that each vehicle also communicates with a central server to relay information back and forth. In this way each vehicle can react individually to rapidly changing road conditions, while simultaneously reporting those hazards to the central server so that it can warn nearby vehicles, which would assist them in their own accident avoidance decisions. The central server would also keep track of scheduling/sorting and whatever else is necessary to maximize traffic flow efficiency.

I am not saying it's not possible, I just don't think this is the type of thing to half-ass... and this idea of only keeping track of one vehicle, the lead vehicle, and then letting the other ones simply follow each other using proximity sensors seems pretty half assed.
aeolius
2 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2010
It is interesting that in this science newsletter there is such concrete thinking.
The obvious place for this is not in the slow lane but in the fast lane. Or better yet in an HOV-like dedicated lane.
This could work not only for personal cars but fr long-distance trucking.
For me the biggest danger is sudden stopping. Do the cars need to be Breaking-distance apart? If not
One bad set of breaks could cause havoc
trekgeek1
not rated yet Dec 10, 2010
... there are pinheads that will simply pace the platoon, and block all passing, nor the idea that someone will get trapped in the left lane, and have to decelerate to 20 mph to let the platoon go by in order to make his exit that is coming up in 0.1 mile.


Where did you pull 20mph out from? It's your own fault if you leave 528 feet before you need to exit. That's about 6 seconds to merge over. I don't think you're one of those expert drivers you're talking about. Deer? Yeah, I don't know how'd we ever program a car to avoid a 400 lb animal. Rails? Now you need an entirely new infrastructure whereas autonomous vehicles use existing roadways. If cars were equipped with this, you'd benefit as a human driver. I actually think you signaling would alert the platoon that you need to get over and they'd all move and make a path for you. How often does that happen now? Even if you're driving, your car can still communicate.
Quantum_Conundrum
not rated yet Dec 10, 2010
trekgeek1:

Some time back I had proposed converting roads and freeways to maglev and cars to hybridized sleds to ride on them.

Alternatively you could do something like the bumber cars at an amusement park, which all have on-board motors, but off-board power supplies.

In this way, we have no batteries or fuel tank, but vehicles run on offboard power, which is extremely efficient since you never need to push the weight of a battery or fuel.
rally2xs
1 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2010
"Where did you pull 20mph out from?"

'Cuz I know there's some pinhead out there that will do that (not me... I don't have a death wish and I know better...) but somebody...
rally2xs
5 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2010
"I actually think you signaling would alert the platoon that you need to get over and they'd all move and make a path for you."

You don't understand. They're not driving. They're surfing the net, eating, maybe even asleep in the back seat depending on how far they're going. The platoon is a line of automatic cars, and you have to deal with it. Only way to get across a lane that they occupy is to drop behind them, or outrun them, but that won't be possible because of the pinhead that is pacing them up ahead.
rally2xs
not rated yet Dec 10, 2010
Oh, yeah, another thing: You're the 28th car in one of these things, following some sort of lead, and the 27 cars ahead are all soccer fans that get off at the stadium exit. All of a sudden there's maybe 500 feet between you and the lead vehicle. Will your car track it? Will it catch it? Or will your car be confused, and at best case, just pull over to the side of the road safely? Worst case is it gets confused and crashes. Then what? Asleep in the back seat? Not a pleasant surprise to wake up to.
FainAvis
not rated yet Dec 11, 2010
The platoon gets to a cross road. Lead driver decides it is safe for him to cross, but can he see the road both ways clear enough for the entire platoon to cross? Will someone get tee boned by a lead foot from the side road? Who is at fault, the car driver or the platoon leader who led him into the intersection?
Automating cars to this extent is asking for trouble.
trekgeek1
not rated yet Dec 11, 2010


You don't understand. They're not driving. They're surfing the net, eating, maybe even asleep in the back seat depending on how far they're going. The platoon is a line of automatic cars, and you have to deal with it. Only way to get across a lane that they occupy is to drop behind them, or outrun them, but that won't be possible because of the pinhead that is pacing them up ahead.


No, you don't understand at all. It's not a brick on a gas pedal, it's an autonomous control system. The human is eating, sleeping, etc. The computer is driving and is perfectly capable of responding to other drivers. If you tailgated the car, it'd probably move over to increase safety by increasing headway.
trekgeek1
1 / 5 (1) Dec 11, 2010
trekgeek1:

Some time back I had proposed converting roads and freeways to maglev and cars to hybridized sleds to ride on them.

Alternatively you could do something like the bumber cars at an amusement park, which all have on-board motors, but off-board power supplies.

In this way, we have no batteries or fuel tank, but vehicles run on offboard power, which is extremely efficient since you never need to push the weight of a battery or fuel.


Not a bad idea, but it still takes a huge infrastructure overhaul. Also, a power grid fail can leave many stranded. Decentralized power, e.g. gas tanks and batteries provide a more robust system where massive failures are less likely to happen.
lengould100
not rated yet Dec 11, 2010
The system has so many obvious benefits, it has to come about sooner or later. Except in the US of course, since there are so many there just hoping for some excuse to sue everyone else for something, anything.

The system should start small, simply including a smarter cruise control into every car which has control of both accelerator and brakes, and a tiny dual radar system which enables the car to safely tailgate any other vehicle. Road condition broadcast stations at regular intervals disable it in event of snow / ice / etc.

It only works on freeways (no controlled intersections) and still required full attention / responsibility of every driver. Main advantage is maintaining traffic density through stop-and-go situations, thus hugely reducing the delays. (eg. the main cause of repeated stop-and-go situations on freeways is that cars presently cannot maintain the same density, or autos-per-mile, at speed as they do when stopped. This would fix that one issue).
lengould100
not rated yet Dec 11, 2010
Also part of the initial system should be a digital data feed-backward system where every auto signals backward the exact apparent intention of their drivers or of autos in the front of the train. If the front dsriver hits the brakes in an emergency stop mode, that information is instantly relayed back to every other car in the train to also immediately do an emergency stop, or to continue on after a warning.

Each car should maintain a rating system which is transmitted to the cars behind. If a driver drives erratically, doing risky lane changes or wierd stops etc., their car rates them very low, and when you pull in behind them in an attempt to train with them, you immediately learn that training with that driver is a bad idea and carry on manually until you find a high-rated driver to train behind. Rating system re-set on sale of car, and for all rentals, of course.
rally2xs
not rated yet Dec 11, 2010
No, you don't understand at all. It's not a brick on a gas pedal, it's an autonomous control system. The human is eating, sleeping, etc. The computer is driving and is perfectly capable of responding to other drivers. If you tailgated the car, it'd probably move over to increase safety by increasing headway.


No, I don't think so. I believe that the individual car is fairly mindless, and is locked in on the car in front of it in order to maintain its position, and could not allow a "regular" car to join or cross the line because it's intelligence is not that advanced.

If the cars were as intelligent as you assume, there would be no need for a human-driven pace vehicle.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (17) Dec 12, 2010
Oh, yeah, another thing: You're the 28th car in one of these things, following some sort of lead, and the 27 cars ahead
Yeah, it depends on what the max length of individual platoons is. 6 or 7 cars might not be much longer than some of the 2 box semis you see on the interstate, which people have gotten used to.
MorituriMax
1 / 5 (1) Dec 12, 2010
Natasha,
rally2xs - There were many reasons to think the automobile was going to be a terrible idea, or the airplane. Fortunately, people saw beyond those reasons, and what once was unthinkable is now commonplace.


Yet after all this time, we don't have convoys of planes on autopilot everywhere, do we? You'd think with the sheer amount of air traffic and the incredible numbers of planes in the air that would have long since happened. Or we would have daily shuttle trips to the colonies on the moon. Oh wait, we've only had the technology to get to the other planets in the solar system for decades, gosh, yet it hasn't happened.

I think there is a good reason to be skeptical of some of these things. It is what keeps us from wasting money on idiotic concepts and keeps the money going where it can do some good.
MorituriMax
1 / 5 (1) Dec 12, 2010
I think we need a system that implants chips in peoples brains and when they all think of going to the same place, it should check to make sure the destination (airport, club, restaurant, whatever) doesn't have long lines already, taking into account when those other people who thought of going there earlier than you will get there. If there are going to be too many people, then the computer removes that thought from your head. You just get a vague feeling that it isn't a good idea and plan something else. Then the chip can check again. Makes everything simpler for everyone AND it's visionary!
SDMike
2 / 5 (2) Dec 12, 2010
Why is centralized control and loss of independent decision making so attractive to Europeans? This idea already exists. It's called a TRAIN. Most of the kinks have been worked out and most people (outside of the hives like NY) won't ride on them.
rally2xs
not rated yet Dec 12, 2010
The thing that would be better about this than a train is that when you get where you're going, or get back, you have your car with you. That means not having to get out and walk somewhere, possibly in a 5 degrees below zero, 35 mph wind, or some-such, and if you've got 75 lbs of tools that you want to have with you, you don't have to try to carry 'em on your back - you stick 'em in the trunk.

Letting someone else do the driving is what rich people do, and what people who are sick of dealing with the morons on the road themselves aspire to. Getting in the back seat and going to sleep, while this thing guide me and my car to a Colorado ski vacation overnight would be way cool. But, I see too many problems if it proposes to mix regular cars and these automatons.
finitesolutions
not rated yet Dec 13, 2010
After years of crashless highway driving you could program a computer to do the driving for you. For added stability you train the cars behind a truck. Most likely all the highway traffic will become automatic in some years.
Magnette
not rated yet Dec 13, 2010

The system should start small, simply including a smarter cruise control into every car which has control of both accelerator and brakes, and a tiny dual radar system which enables the car to safely tailgate any other vehicle. Road condition broadcast stations at regular intervals disable it in event of snow / ice / etc.



This style of system is already available all over the world. I drive a Lexus Ls 600hL that has a forward radar that can be programmed for distance from the vehicle in front and will match the other vehicles speed by using the throttle/brakes. It will bring the car to a standstill and then restart when the front vehicle moves off. When the road opens up the Lexus will resume the preprogrammed speed.
My last car was a 2003 Mercedes and that had the same technology.
I do admit it was nerve wracking the first time waiting for it to work.

I suspect it's the 'sue & be damned' society in the USA that holds back the possible use of this technology.

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