Fleets of SARTRE Cars Will Band Together in Self-Driving "Road Trains"

Illustration for article titled Fleets of SARTRE Cars Will Band Together in Self-Driving "Road Trains"

There are definite advantages from convoying behind big-rigs on long drives—and not just the fuel savings. If this new networked-vehicle system comes to fruition, riding behind Smokey will also enable your car to drive itself.


The SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project by Volvo, which has been in the works since 2009, aims to wirelessly link vehicles together and tether them to leading trucks, creating a self-driving convey of vehicles. Networking them together allows each vehicle in the line to autonomously match the acceleration, braking, and turns of the truck—essentially a computerized game of follow-the-leader.

A recent system test saw a Volvo XC60, a Volvo V60, and a Volvo S60 to a lead truck and sent the steel conga line on a 124-mile joy ride on a Spanish public highway at 53 mph. "Apart from the software developed as part of the project, it is really only the wireless network installed between the cars that set them apart from other cars available in showrooms today," Linda Wahlstrom, SARTRE's project manager told Live Science.

Looks like our auto-chauffeured future isn't that far off after all. [SARTRE via LiveScience]


The biggest problem, overall, is that this platform requires the leader (apparently only can be a Tractor-Trailer) to be alert, attentive, law abiding, and be in proper maintenance...oh, and to be going your way. I would give up my 90MPH+ cruises on the highway in order to kick back and let my car take me where I need to go. Keeping drivers attentive isn't the problem, that's the whole goal of automated personal transport. To kick back and let the car do the work, at least on the highway, where your only goal is to stay between the lines and drive straight for 100s of miles. As much as I like driving (M3 driver) I would gladly give up this one boring aspect, and at times, I would thank other drivers for giving up this aspect when I want to use the (now clear) left lane.

Obviously, I'm not the only person to think of these problems, but it makes me wonder how they will implement their solutions. 1. Tractor Trailers have to stop at weigh stations, what happens to a queue of cars that is/was following this truck? 2. Tractor trailers eventually break off or rest, when there is no leader, what happens to everyone's automated car? Does the line stay together and find a new leader? 3. What happens when the guy in the front/middle of the convoy decides to break off, or accidentally disengages the system, or runs out of gas, or gets a flat, or overheats, etc? The following cars now have to account for an erratic/rogue car in their midst. 4. What happens when an inattentive driver doesn't realize their "conga line" is about to disburse/disengage due to lack of a leader?

It seems that when you account for all the 'if' factors, you may as well simply design a completely self-driving car that happens to network and "conga line" with other cars during long highway trips.