The technology was demonstrated at the conclusion of the 6.4 million Euro (A$7,907,260) Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project, which Volvo Trucks participated in. Although it may take some time for wireless road trains to be part of everyday reality, the technology brought about through the project could be put to use for other purposes in order make our traffic environment considerably safer in the near future.
The concept of unmanned trucks is already in use through the FrontRunner system comprised solely of Komatsu mining equipment, specifically, five units of autonomous dump trucks that use the 930E electric drive dump truck as a base machine, as well as a super-large PC5500 hydraulic excavator, D475A bulldozer, WD900 wheel dozer and GD825 motor grader operating in Chile and Western Australia. However these applications are off road.
The EU-financed SARTRE project recently presented the results of three years of research and trials. Representatives from the EU Commission and experts in transport technology from Europe, the US and Japan got to see a fully functioning wireless road train in operation at Volvo’s proving ground in
Sweden. In the lead was a Volvo FH truck, closely followed by another Volvo truck and three cars.
The participants were able to see that the project’s aims had been achieved: development of a technology for wireless road trains that can improve traffic safety, reduce the environmental impact of road traffic and improve traffic flow. The building of test vehicles, car-to-car communication and sensors for the control of nearby vehicles has been underway for three years. Now these technical achievements make it possible for multiple vehicles in a road train to integrate smoothly with other traffic on public motorways. The entire road train is interconnected through wireless technology, which ensures that the trailing cars follow exactly in the track of the lead vehicle – as though the
train consisted of a single vehicle. The result is that the driver in a trailing car can relax, perhaps read a book or watch TV, while the car drives itself.
“The gaps between the vehicles are much smaller than in normal traffic, but it is as safe, or even safer to be part of the road train, since it is lightning-quick computers and not human beings who respond to even the slightest change in any of the cars in the train,” explains Andreas Ekfjorden, project manager for Volvo Trucks’ portion of the SARTRE project.
The purpose of SARTRE – to increase safety and decrease fuel consumption – is the reason that Volvo Trucks chose to participate in the project. It is the cars’ fuel consumption that drops the most as a result of the reduced air drag in the compact convoy of vehicles, but the lead truck’s fuel consumption is also cut. This will make it profitable for haulage firms to provide lead trucks. Vehicles that join the convoy could pay a fee, thus benefiting the haulage firm.
What is more, the results of the SARTRE project show clearly that a truck with a trained driver and comprehensive equipment package contributes to heightened traffic safety that actually benefits other road users.
However, although the SARTRE project has developed well-functioning road train prototypes there are still challenges that have to be overcome before the system can become an everyday reality including reliability and blame if an accident occurs with a trailing vehicle and getting the legislation sorted to allow the system to be used on roads.