For the first time ever, a Volvo truck has led a platoon – a convoy in which vehicles automatically follow a lead vehicle – on a public motorway among amongst other road users.
Vehicle platoon tests in the EU-funded SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project – a joint venture between seven European partners including Volvo Trucks – are making progress. One major step forward was taken last week on a motorway outside Barcelona, Spain – the first-ever test drive of a road train consisting of both trucks and cars among other road users. The test convoy covered 200 kilometres (125 miles) in one day.
“The truck behaved exactly as expected, and the following vehicles responded just as planned. It was great to be a part of this landmark event,” says Andreas Ekfjorden, Project Manager for Volvo Trucks in the SARTRE project and test driver of the lead truck in Spain.
A road train consists of a lead vehicle followed by a number of vehicles. In the SARTRE project, existing vehicle safety systems – such as cameras and radar – are used by the following vehicles to monitor the lead truck as well as other vehicles in their immediate vicinity. By adding wireless communication, all the vehicles in the platoon ‘mimic’ the lead truck – accelerating, braking and turning in exactly the same way as the lead vehicle.
In Spain last week, three Volvo cars and another Volvo truck followed the lead Volvo truck, the distance between each vehicle being just 6 metres (20 feet) at 85 kph (53 mph).
The driver of the lead truck has a key role in the SARTRE project. The project mission states that the driver of the lead truck must be a professional and must be specifically trained for the task. For the drivers of the following vehicles, the aim is to allow them to relax since they will be continuously supported and can even let go of the steering wheel. For the professional driver of the lead truck, however, being at the helm of a vehicle platoon is a great responsibility, so they are supported by a number of safety systems such as Volvo Trucks’ Lane Keeping Support, Driver Alert Support and an alcolock.
“The focus on driver environment is at the very core of Volvo Trucks’ R&D work. Making the truck a safer workplace and supporting the driver is one of the most efficient ways for us to contribute to road safety. It is also part of our ultimate goal: zero accidents with Volvo Trucks. Our participation in the SARTRE project is a natural extension of that philosophy,” says Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic & Product Safety Director, Volvo Trucks.
The SARTRE project has environmental goals too. The environmental impact of a road train is lower than that of today’s conventional traffic system, since the following vehicles are close behind the truck and each other and can thus reap the benefit of lower air drag. By improving traffic flow, road capacity will also be able to be utilised more efficiently.
In the haulage industry – where fuel-efficiency is a highly critical success factor – these findings raise questions on how the savings should be distributed. Analysis of business models for platoons is an integral part of the SARTRE project.
“Haulage firms stand to gain from platoons, but more work needs to be done before it is possible to say what a working business model will look like,” says Frida Ramde, Intelligent Vehicle Technologies Manager at Volvo Trucks.
The three-year SARTRE project has been under way since 2009. All in all, the vehicles in the project have now covered about 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mls). After the test on public roads in Spain, the project is now entering a new phase with the focus on analysis of fuel consumption.