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December 10, 2010

SARTRE project ready to road test car platooning by the end of the year

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 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 vehicle 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.

Robotic car advocate Brad Templeton discusses the project. Nextbigfuture also advocates robotic cars.

It’s the easiest way to get a robocar on the highway, but comes with a particularly high risk if it fails — and failure in the earliest stages of robocar projects is very likely.






In the video, some interesting elements include:

* The building of a simulator to test driver attitudes and reactions. Generally quite positive, in that people are happy to trust the driving to the system and the lead driver. This will change a bit in a real car, since a simulator can only do so much.
* The imagine people eating, drinking, listening to music and reading while in the convoys, but they don’t talk about the elephant in the car: sleeping. People doing anything else can quickly take the controls in a problem, but sleepers may not. And there’s also that act that we metaphorically call “sleeping together.”
* Their simulations depict cars leaving the convoy from the middle. However, in this situation it seems you can’t give them too much brake-accelerator control for the difficult task of changing lanes when you are just a few feet from the cars in front and back of you. You must maintain the speed of the train until you have fully left its lane, but that means you can’t do the usual task of changing speed as you enter your new lane. Exit from the trains will need some work. (There are suggestions in the comments that make sense.)
* They expect to have to make legal changes to allow this. However, since it’s an EU initiated project, they have a leg-up on that. This might pave the way for more robocar-friendly laws in Europe.
* While they plan to do a live test by 2012, they are much more cautious on predicting when the trains might be common on the roads.
* They do speculate if a simple robocar function for “stop and go” traffic, which is able to follow the car in front of you at lower speeds, might come first. Indeed, this is pretty easy, and not much more than a smarter version of existing auto-follow cruise control with steering and lane-following added.
* Their main pitch is environmental, as drafting should save decent fuel. However, I think most people will be interested in the time saving, and I’ll be interested in how the public accepts it.




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